CEDAR RAPIDS — An air carrier with a history of mechanical problems on its jets made an emergency landing back at The Eastern Iowa Airport on Wednesday 17 minutes after takeoff because of reports of smoke.
The Allegiant Air flight was carrying 157 passengers from Cedar Rapids to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in Arizona. The plane landed safely and the passengers deplaned, airport spokeswoman Pam Hinman said.
A spokeswoman for Allegiant emailed a statement saying Allegiant flight 101 returned due to a mechanical issue, which arose shortly after takeoff, and noted the airline planned to send another jet to Cedar Rapids to get the passenger to Phoenix later that day.
“The crew declared an emergency out of an abundance of caution and the plane landed normally,” according to the statement from Krysta Levy. “The aircraft was met by local fire and rescue (as is procedure for all emergency landings) and they found nothing unusual.”
The aircraft is a 21-year-old Airbus A320-200 (twin-jet), which had previously been in the Phillapine Airlines and Pal Express fleets before Allegiant entered it into service on Dec. 6, 2015, according to Planespotters.net and FlightAware.com.
The average age of Allegiant’s fleet is 22.1 years, according to AirFleets.net, which tracks the fleet status of nearly all the world’s airlines, The Gazette has reported. In comparison, American Airlines has an average fleet age of 11.7 years, United Airlines 13.6 years and Delta Air Lines 17.2 years, according to AirFleets.net.
Allegiant flights account for about 20 percent of the passenger volume at The Eastern Iowa Airport, The Gazette has reported.
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Wednesday’s flight departed at 11:54 a.m. and returned at 12:11 p.m. The back up flight was scheduled to leave at 7:30 p.m., according to the statement.
Frustrated passengers took to social media describing being kept on the plane for nearly an hour after landing despite smoke in the cabin, no air conditioning and blistering heat on a day Cedar Rapids was under a heat advisory with the heat index reaching 100 to 105 degrees.
“The plane started taking off and my wife started smelling an electrical smoke,” Chris Pelton, 31, who was returning home to Arizona after a visit with family in Iowa, told The Gazette while waiting for the next flight. “We looked around as we were taking off and started seeing haze from smoke.”
He said most people were ignoring it, assuming it was normal, but he and his wife started to “panic” as the smoke built up and were asking what was going on before the pilot announced over the loud speaker they were returning to Cedar Rapids.
He said the smoke hung in the air while they waited on the runway.
“They turned off the AC and everyone was baking. Everyone was getting very uncomfortable,” he said. “The firetruck was inspecting the outside of the plane for 45 minutes and they wouldn’t give us any information. They would wouldn’t open the doors.”
The Las Vegas-based carrier has taken heat nationally for mechanical issues causing diverted flights and emergency landings.
A 2016 investigation by the Tampa Bay Times newspaper found that Allegiant planes are four times as likely to fail during flight as those operated by other major U.S. airlines.
In 2015, the budget carrier’s jets were forced to make unexpected landings at least 77 times for serious mechanical failures, the newspaper found.
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The Federal Aviation Administration in April 2016 launched a three-month review of Allegiant and found problems with the airline’s maintenance paperwork.
The agency required Allegiant to file a plan for addressing its findings. The airline submitted it in September 2016, and the FAA accepted it.
“We were always a safe airline,” Allegiant’s chief operating officer, Jude Bricker, told the Associated Press on Sept. 30, 2016. “This gives credence to our claim.”
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The Tampa Bay Times contributed to this report.