Thursday, December 17, 2015

Jetliner's Low-Fuel Landing Draws Federal Aviation Administration Reprimand to Airline

The Federal Aviation Administration has reprimanded Allegiant Airlines because of a July incident in which two of its pilots declared they were so low on fuel they needed to make an emergency landing in Fargo, North Dakota.

The airline was issued a formal letter of correction -- something short of an enforcement action, in which the agency could assess a civil fine.

Allegiant Flight 426 to Fargo on July 23 left Las Vegas more than an hour late, arriving while the airport was closed to commercial traffic for an air show rehearsal, according to the FAA. The airline had been notified of the closing and it is the responsibility of pilots to read all such notices.

While Allegiant’s flight operations center initially told Fargo controllers the plane carried enough fuel, the FAA concluded the flight “did not appear to have adequate fuel,” according to a statement from the agency released this week. It didn’t specify whether they were in danger of actually running out.

When controllers radioed the flight crew that they would have to wait 20 minutes before landing, one pilot responded, “Yeah, I don’t have 20 minutes.” The crew rejected a suggestion they divert about 70 miles (113 kilometers) away to Grand Forks.

Bingo Fuel

The pilot then said the plane was nearing “bingo fuel,” military slang for flying on empty. U.S. rules require airliners to carry enough fuel to reach their destination, divert to another location and still have about 45 minutes of reserve.

The Boeing Co. MD-80 carried 144 passengers and six crew members.

Allegiant has “implemented new procedures and training within the dispatch department,” spokeswoman Kim Shaefer said in an e-mail. Airline dispatchers plan routes, monitor airspace closings and calculate how much fuel a flight needs.

The FAA has also requested that Allegiant revise its manuals for pilots and dispatchers.

Allegiant also drew scrutiny from the FAA for an Aug. 17 incident in Las Vegas in which a flight-control device on the tail broke loose, forcing pilots to abort their takeoff after reaching 138 miles (222 kilometers) an hour. Inspections afterward found another three aircraft with improperly attached flight-control bolts, which the airline said it repaired according to normal procedure.

Allegiant, a unit of Allegiant Travel Co., specializes in flights to vacation destinations centered on Las Vegas and Orlando, Florida.


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