Allegiant Air pilot pleads with tower to make emergency landing

Jul 28, 2015 4:53 PM by CBS News, Audio via LiveATC

NORTH DAKOTA -- An Allegiant Airlines pilot declared a fuel emergency and had to land at a North Dakota airport even though the airport was closed for the Blue Angels practicing for their weekend air show, reports CBS News' Kris Van Cleave.

The pilot of Allegiant 426 can be heard arguing with the airport tower at the closed Fargo's Hector International Airport saying he doesn't have enough fuel to divert the plane. In an audio recording of the incident the tower can also be heard scolding the pilot.

"Your company should have been aware of this for a number of months," the tower controller can be heard saying.

"Ok, we'll follow up on that," the pilot responds.

Allegiant released a statement about the incident saying they are investigating.

"At this time, we are coordinating with the FAA and the airport to investigate all channels of communication regarding the flight and the circumstances leading to the declaration of emergency," Allegiant said.

In a statement the FAA said the Blue Angels were practicing in that airspace that day for their air show. There was a temporary flight restriction covering the airspace from noon to 5 p.m.

"The Fargo airport management had notified airlines of the planned airspace closure, practice and air show as far back as December, and NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) were issued 72 hours in advance," the FAA said. "It is a requirement for pilots to review NOTAMs before flight."

FAA said for this reason, all arriving flights had scheduled arrival times. Allegiant 426 missed its scheduled time, as it was an hour late departing from Las Vegas.

"Knowing the airspace was being used by the Blue Angels, the Fargo tower was waiting for the flight to come in, expecting it to divert to Grand Forks," the FAA said. "The pilots of Allegiant 426 would have been talking to the FAA's Minneapolis Center before entering Fargo's airspace, and would have been well aware of the Blue Angels practice."

FAA said that the Fargo tower talked to Allegiant's operations and was assured that the flight did have an extra 45 minutes of fuel on board, as required by FAA regulation. This extra 45 minutes is required on all flights to enable diversions, if necessary.

Allegiant's operation center told the FAA the flight had an extra 45 minutes of fuel on board, but the pilot said otherwise, and requested landing at Fargo. It is unclear how many people were on board the flight.

The Blue Angels were moved to a holding area, and the flight landed without incident.

Allegiant has had a series of mechanical issues this summer, including smoke in the cockpit of a flight. And another where passengers evacuated to the wing.

A few weeks ago, CBS News reported that pilots of Allegiant were accusing the airline of cutting safety along with costs.

In a letter to the board of Allegiant Airlines, the union representing its pilotscomplained about what it says is the company's bare minimum approach to maintenance and safety.

The letter cited 38 potentially dangerous incidents between January and March of 2015 including engine failures, pressurization problems, smoke in the cockpit and radar issues.


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