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Allegiant Air retires last of its MD-80 planes

The last of Allegiant Air's MD-80 planes are finally retired.

Last week, the Las Vegas-based airline completed the final flight of its aging fleet from Fresno, Calif., to Las Vegas — the same route the first ever commercial Allegiant flight took, spokeswoman Hilarie Grey said.

Allegiant is the main carrier at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.

The MD-80 planes are notorious for their fuel inefficiency, tendency toward mechanical issues and average age of about 27 years. As of 2016, just two other carriers (American Airlines and Delta Airlines) still used them. Like Allegiant, American Airlines is retiring its MD-80s by 2019. Neither American nor Delta returned requests for the current number of MD-80s in their fleets on Monday.

The planes were the crux of two high-profile news media investigations into Allegiant's safety record. In April, a 60 Minutes investigation found that Allegiant was three-and-a-half times more likely to have in-air mechanical issues than other major airlines between January 2016 and October 2017.

The report built on a Tampa Bay Times investigation in 2016, which found that the year before, Allegiant flights were four times more likely than other carriers to have mechanical issues during flight. That was in large part due to the MD-80s, which made up a significant portion of the airline's fleet. In 2016, the airplanes in its fleet had an average age of 22 years, compared to 12 years with other carriers.

The transition away from the planes is six years in the making. Allegiant first introduced an Airbus plane into its fleet in 2012. Allegiant, which is owned by Allegiant Travel Co., replaced its entire fleet at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport with Airbus planes in September 2017.

"Our decision to move the transition up by a year from 2019 to 2018 has proven to be an excellent one given the higher fuel cost environment," Allegiant CEO Maurice Gallagher Jr. said in a release at the end of October. Allegiant projected a slightly lower cost per gallon for fuel for the year, updating it its forecast from $2.35 per gallon to $2.38 per gallon during its third quarter earnings report.

By the end of the year, Allegiant's fleet will be comprised of 76 Airbus planes, split between the A320 and A319 models.

Allegiant Travel Co.'s stock closed at just under $134 per share Monday, down less than 1 percent on the day.

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

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