MIAMI — Allegiant has reported that it could still be an additional week before the problem has worked itself completely out of the system. Thirty-two of fifty-two MD80 airplanes have returned to service. A total of twelve flights were cancelled today (9/23). All affected passengers will be rescheduled the following day.

Original Story

Las Vegas based Allegiant Airlines has grounded thirty of its fifty-two McDonnell Douglas MD-80 airplanes yesterday, citing safety concerns with the evacuation slides. In a press release that went out the airline stated that “it has discovered a compliance issue which will require immediate re-inspection of many slides in its MD80 fleet.”

Allegiant discovered the problem on Monday, when an evacuation of a flight at Las Vegas McCarran revealed the slides on its MD-80 aircraft were not in compliance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. Initially the slides were required to be reworked every three years, but in 2007 the specification was updated to require the overhaul annually. The airline reports that 18 of the 52 airplanes have had their slides checked and have been placed back into service as of 7:34 PM E.S.T, but up to 32 MD-80s remain out of service.

That wasn’t enough to stop eighteen flights from being cancelled today, however, though sixteen will be rescheduled for tomorrow. Going forward the inspections will force a number of delays and cancellations as the planes are inspected and brought into compliance. The company said that they anticipate that all work will be completed by the end of the month, with planes rejoining the fleet as they pass inspection.

Affected passengers will receive varying degrees of airline credit should their flight be delayed, ranging from $100 for two hours or less up to $200 for six hours or more. Hotel accommodations are being provided to those whose vacations, wherever they are, have been extended. Those who have been cancelled outright will receive a full refund and $200 for future travel.

The very profitable and rapidly growing airline has experienced a few recent bouts of turbulence. They have deferred purchases of some of their Airbus A320 family aircraft from Iberia and easyJet and they have not yet been able to profitably operate their fleet of Boeing 757-200s to Hawaii.

In recent months, the airline has taken small steps towards shifting its business model away from the MD-80s and secondary destinations towards the same growth track taken by the largest ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC) in the country Spirit Airlines, by adding new major market routes like Austin – Las Vegas and Los Angeles – Honolulu, as well as adding used A320s from contracting Spanish carrier Iberia.

Allegiant is certainly no stranger to mechanical issues with its fleet of MD-80 and 757 aircraft, as the both types have seen sporadic mechanical issues year after year since entering the fleet. The 757’s issues were largely chalked up to teething issues over introducing a new aircraft type while the issues with the MD-80 have evolved as a consistent, if non-threatening, pattern over the last six to seven years.  This represents the first major US safety issue with MD-80 aircraft since March 2008, when American and Delta cancelled hundreds of MD-80 flights to inspect and replace faulty wiring covers.