Pilot Says He Was Fired For Evacuating Smoky Plane

Allegiant Air — already in the spotlight over repair issues, onboard fires, and safety concerns from those who fly the airline’s planes — now stands accused of firing a pilot because he evacuated his aircraft after crew and passengers detected smoke in the cabin.

According to a lawsuit [PDF] filed in a Clark County, NV, district court, the pilot had just taken off from St. Petersburg, FL, en route to Hagerstown, MD, on June 8, 2015, when the cabin crew reported that “acrid smoke or chemical fumes” were coming from an undetectable source toward the back of the cabin. The complaint notes that both crew and passengers noticed the smell.

Citing his “regulatory duty” and “common law obligation to provide a high degree of care for the safety of his passengers,” the pilot declared an emergency and landed back in St. Petersburg.

Back at the airport, Fire Rescue officers noticed some smoke in one engine and told the pilot to shut it down. The “acrid burning smell” persisted, so the pilot instructed cabin crew and air traffic control to prepare to evacuate the plane.

That’s when an unidentified man — who was neither the pilot nor the controller — declared over the air traffic control frequency to “hold off on your evacuation.” The controller and the pilot told the man to identify himself and what authority he had to make such a call, but the mystery man only repeated “I’m telling you not to evacuate yet.”

And so the pilot moved forward with evacuating the flight. As he checked on the plane’s cabin, he says he noticed a passenger who was unable to walk. The pilot claims that he and a flight attendant then carried this passenger to the exit.

Following the evacuation, Allegiant opened an investigation into the pilot’s actions and determined that he “failed to exhibit” the necessary behaviors of an “on-scene commander.”

Per the July 23 dismissal notice [included as Exhibit 2 in the complaint], in addition to being a good pilot, these behaviors include “striving to preserve the Company’s assets, aircraft, ground equipment, fuel and the personal time of our employees and customers.”

The dismissal explanation criticizes the pilot for continuing to insist that he made a “good decision to evacuate the aircraft” and that he’d do it again “if faced with a similar situation.”

In a statement, the pilot defends his decision.

“Smoke in the cabin is obviously a major safety concern and there is no responsibility I take more seriously than protecting my passengers and crew,” he explains. “All I’m asking for is a recognition that evacuating the plane was the only safe course of action and a commitment from Allegiant to put safety first so my colleagues never have to worry that doing the right – and safe – thing could cost them their jobs.”

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