ST. CLOUD, Minn. - Emergency exit slides in many of Allegiant Air's McDonnell-Douglas MD-80 fleet haven't been inspected and maintained on schedule, leading to the grounding of more than 30 of its planes.
The company announced Friday afternoon that it had grounded 32 of its 57 MD-80 series aircraft. Eighteen others had been inspected and returned to service before Friday's announcement.
The grounded planes represent about half of the airline's fleet. Allegiant also flies six Boeing 757-200s and is in the process of adding 18 Airbuses before mid-2014.
Allegiant currently flies one flight per week from St. Cloud to Phoenix/Mesa Gateway Airport on MD-83s. It will resume a second flight on the route in October and said it plans to launch a third flight to Arizona in February.
Airplanes in the MD-80 series seat about 166 people. Allegiant said last month that it plans to use the model on the upcoming St. Cloud service to the Orlando, Fla., area. Allegiant plans two flights per week between St. Cloud and Florida, starting in December. The service will be seasonal.
Allegiant said in a statement that, while it was reviewing details of an incident earlier this week, it discovered that it had not been performing maintenance on MD80 emergency exit slides as recommended by the manufacturer.
The slide manufacturer says equipment made more than 15 years ago should be inspected annually. Newer slides can be inspected every three years.
The average plane in Allegiant's MD-80 fleet is more than 20 years old, regulatory filings indicate.
Allegiant discovered that many of the slides on its planes had not been inspected within the last year. It grounded the planes to inspect and overhaul the slides, which have to be removed from the aircraft and and sent to a maintenance facility.
By Friday afternoon, the company said 18 of 121 flights for Friday would be canceled. Sixteen of those would operate Saturday instead. Two were canceled outright and approximately another 20 flights were significantly delayed.
St. Cloud's Allegiant flights on Saturday were listed as on time as of Friday evening.
The airline is advising passengers to check its website for information about their flights. It is also offering travel vouchers to delayed passengers: $100 for flights delayed less than four hours; $150 for delays of four to six hours; $200 for flights delayed more than six hours; and a full refund plus a $200 voucher for rescheduled flights.
Passengers delayed overnight will receive lodging and meals, the company said.
"We apologize for the disruption to our passengers and ask that they please remain patient as we work to correct the issue, reschedule affected flights and accommodate any passengers impacted," said Andrew Levy, Allegiant Travel Co. president, said in the company's statement. "Allegiant is committed, above all else, to the safety of our passengers and crew, and we are dedicated to working around-the-clock to ensure that all of our fleet meets the highest standards."
The airline said it expects to have all of its airplanes flying again by the end of the month.
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