By Stephen Pope / Published: Aug 04, 2015
There are many more questions than answers surrounding an in-flight low fuel emergency involving an Allegiant Air MD-80 arriving in Fargo, North Dakota, last month, with fingers variously being pointed at the pilots, the airline’s management and the Fargo Tower controller.
The drama unfolded when Allegiant Air Flight 426 from Las Vegas to Fargo, being piloted by two of the airline’s executives, arrived with a load of passengers and minimum fuel. The Fargo airport was due to close 12 minutes before Flight 426’s scheduled arrival for a five-hour Blue Angels practice session, but the flight was delayed in Las Vegas for over an hour. For some reason the pilots decided to take off anyway.
The pilot told the tower that he didn’t have enough fuel to make it to his alternate airport, so he was forced to declare an emergency to clear airspace for a landing at Fargo’s Hector International Airport, according to a recording of the incident on LiveATC.net.
At one point, the Fargo Tower controller rebuked the pilots for their apparent ignorance of the airport closure. “Your company dispatch should have been aware of this for a number of months,” the controller said.
“We don’t have enough fuel to go anywhere else,” the pilot told the controller. “And our guys are trying to get in touch with the tower manager right now to coordinate our landing or I’m going to have to declare an emergency and come in and land.”
Fargo Tower gave the pilot a phone number to try, and then told him the airspace would be clear to land if he could wait another 20 minutes. Otherwise, they would have to try their luck with Minneapolis Center.
“Yeah, I don’t have 20 minutes,” the pilot said.
The tower then recommended another airport 70 miles to the north, the recording shows.
“Yeah, listen, we’re bingo fuel here in about probably three to four minutes and I got to come in and land,” the pilot said.
Minutes later the pilots declared an emergency with Minneapolis Center. They made a safe landing shortly after 1 p.m. after Blue Angels jets were cleared from the runway.
It will now be up to the FAA to try to determine why the pilots took off with minimum fuel headed for an airport they should have known was closed and, subsequently, why the controller in Fargo took an unhelpful and even apparently adversarial approach in handling the unfolding emergency.