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FAA reviewing whether Allegiant Air filed safety reports on time

The FAA is reviewing whether Allegiant Air filed safety reports in a timely manner after a number of emergency landings at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport this summer. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Published Dec. 16, 2015

The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it is reviewing whether Allegiant Air failed to timely file safety reports detailing mechanical difficulties causing two emergency landings at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport this summer.

The airline filed the "Service Difficulty Reports" about the June 17 and July 3 emergency landings Tuesday. That came after the Tampa Bay Times repeatedly asked the FAA and Allegiant to either provide the reports or explain why they were missing.

Federal regulations require the filing of such reports with the FAA generally within four days. Allegiant declined to discuss the reports for those two flights.

An SDR for a June 8 emergency landing at the airport was filed in a timely manner.

The FAA requires airlines to quickly file safety reports on serious mechanical problems on their planes so the agency can identify potentially dangerous flaws in aircraft systems.

"The FAA is looking into the timeliness of Service Difficulty Reports that Allegiant Air filed in connection with emergency landings on June 17 and July 3," FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said. "The FAA is working with the carrier to improve its SDR reporting process."

Allegiant has declined to provide much detail on the three emergency landings, so the reports provide the first glimpse of the mechanical issues that may have contributed to them.

On the afternoon of June 8, Allegiant Flight 864 departed St. Pete-Clearwater for Maryland with 141 passengers aboard. Shortly after takeoff, a flight attendant reported "smoke/fumes" like burning rubber, according to the SDR.

The plane made an emergency landing, deploying evacuation slides. Four passengers and a flight attendant suffered minor injuries.

Mechanics combed the aircraft to identify a malfunction. But the FAA report filed by the airline said they were unable to find any problem.

The June 8 incident was similar to the flight of a different Allegiant aircraft a week earlier that never made the news, according to reports reviewed by the Times.

That aircraft was descending into St. Pete-Clearwater when three out of four flight attendants "claim they felt dizzy & became nauseous" due to "smells like gunpowder & a mechanic shop" in the sixth row of passenger seats, an SDR filed for the flight said. Passengers, it noted, smelled nothing.

The pilot landed safely without declaring an emergency. Allegiant mechanics, the report said, could find nothing amiss with the aircraft.

In a statement, Allegiant declined to discuss that flight in detail. "We cannot speculate on the source of an odor for which we found no evidence of the source," the airline said.

On June 17, Allegiant Flight 866 departed the Pinellas airport with 154 passengers, headed to Pittsburgh, before returning for an emergency landing. Allegiant told the FAA that air-conditioning equipment failed, resulting in the aircraft being unable to maintain pressurization. The report said the pilot was forced to descend at the "maximum rate" of 3,000 feet per minute.

An inoperative control valve was later found by mechanics.

On July 3, Allegiant Flight 977 left Asheville, N.C., bound for Punta Gorda, but was forced to divert to St. Pete-Clearwater.

An Allegiant spokesperson had previously said an indicator light in the cockpit pointed to a potential problem with the alignment of the aircraft's spoilers, which rise from the wings to reduce lift during descent.

An SDR filed on the flight confirmed that and noted the problem was simply a broken sensor, which first malfunctioned at 2,000 feet.

Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

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