MIAMI — The job of Pilot-in-Command of an airliner is not an easy one. Sound decisions must be made, in real time, often with imperfect information, all while traveling at 10 miles a minute. And, if an accident or incident occurs on board, every microsecond will be scrutinized for years to come—not only by investigators, but by armchair pilots second-guessing every action or inaction. Those armchair pilots can include the very company for whom those pilots work.
Such appears the case for Allegiant Air, who promptly fired Captain Jason Kinzer after what they claim to be an “unnecessary” evacuation after smoke was observed in the cabin. The evac resulted in several minor injuries, and—perhaps more to the point—bad publicity for the airline.
In June, smoke in the cabin initiated an emergency landing for Allegiant flight 864, which promptly diverted to St. Petersburg Clearwater International Airport.
Upon landing, a voice on the radio says, “I’m showing some smoke on your number one engine.”
The pilot asks for confirmation. “Verify you’re showing smoke on the number one engine.”
“That’s affirmative. You wanna shut number one down. That’s the pilot’s side.”
“Alright number 1 shutting down.”
Shortly thereafter, the crew decides to evacuate. They report it over the radio.
“Allegiant 864, we’re gonna be evacuating.”
“Allegiant 864, roger. And at that position, correct?”
“Yes, right here we’re gonna be evacuating.”
Soon after, another voice on the radio—presumably the fire crew chief—requests the crew to hold off. But, after multiple queries by the pilots, the voice is never confirmed, nor an explanation given as to why they should hold off.
“Allegiant 864, why do you want us to hold?” the crew can be heard transmitting. “Sir, we need an answer. Please, why do you want us to hold on the evacuation?”
Without further information, and with the smoke threat still presumably looming, the crew continues with the evacuation.
Smoke aboard an aircraft is nothing to be trifled with. Even if it turns out to be a minor issue, in seconds, that issue could flare up into an onboard conflagration. Swissair 111, Air Canada 797, Value Jet 592… aviation history is rife with deadly examples.
With little data to go on, any flight crew would rightly divert and evacuate as soon as possible. It’s simply the safest course of action. Captain Kinzer says he would do the exact thing all over again, and our AirwaysNews reporter who offered up this plump turkey—a captain for a major U.S. airline—says he would do the same exact thing as well.
This incident is one of several that have recently plagued Allegiant Air. A report by the Aviation Mechanics’ Coalition claims the airline had a “high rate of returns and diversions due to avoidable mechanical issues”—in all, 38 incidents between January and March of 2015.
Captain Kinzer has filed a lawsuit against Allegiant for “Wrongful and Tortious Termination of Employment.”