CONTACT 13: Pilot sues Allegiant for wrongful termination

Posted at 4:46 PM, Nov 12, 2015
and last updated 2018-04-16 19:52:36-04
We have a story that's rocking the airline industry. A former Allegiant pilot has filed a lawsuit.
He's accusing the airline of firing him for putting passenger safety first.  
Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears has been talking to the pilot for months, including today when he went public for the first time.
The pilot tells us Allegiant fired him for evacuating a perfectly good airplane.  
An airplane with smoke coming from its number one engine. He says the airline is trying to scare pilots into keeping issues quiet so the company can preserve its profit.
June 8, 2015.  Allegiant Air flight 864 took off from St. Petersburg, Florida. We've obtained audio of the radio transmissions between the pilot and Air Traffic Control. 
PILOT:  "The flight attendants reported a burning smell immediately after departure so do you guys have a way of checking to see anything out of the ordinary in the airplane?  Do you see smoke?  Do you see any scorching?"
Moments later, confirmation from airport rescue and fire.
RF: I'm showing some smoke on your number one engine.
PILOT: Verify you're showing smoke on the number one engine.
RF: That's affirmative -- if you want to shut number one down that's the pilot side.
PILOT: All right number one here we go. 
Capt. Jason Kinzer was the pilot on flight 864.
"Smoke and fire is a dangerous issue.  It can sweep an aircraft very quickly," says Kinzer. "I know I wouldn't want anybody taking chances with my loved ones on an airplane."
Captain Kinzer and his crew made the decision to evacuate the plane's 141 passengers.  
A lawsuit, filed Thursday in Clark County District Court, says, "Acrid smoke or chemical fumes from an undetectable source was emanating from the rear of the passenger cabin and that it was being detected and inhaled by the passengers as well."
"Any pilot will tell you the only thing they're thinking about is the safety of the people that are behind them," says Kinzer. 
But for his decision in the midst of what he thought was a fire, Allegiant fired him.  That after he and his crew were grilled by Allegiant's internal Flight Standards Review Board here in Las Vegas.
"Company officials thought that I should have tried to shimmy my body out the window to look aftward, to look backward at the aircraft engine, which is physically that's not possible," says Kinzer.
"In an MD80 we can't even really see the wing tip from the cockpit, so to be able to see the engine 146 feet behind us is -- that would be a real challenge."
In a termination letter Allegiant sent to Captain Kinzer, it talks about safety and efficiency, as well as preserving the company's assets. It says Kinzer ordered an "entirely unwarranted evacuation" that compromised crew and passenger safety.
"That's never an easy decision for any aviator to come to, but in this case we had lost contact with the crash/fire/rescue personnel. The last thing we were told was that the airplane had smoke coming from it," explains Kinzer. 
Kinzer says he followed company policy and FAA regulations, which say the pilot in command is the ultimate authority over operation of the airplane.  
In this case, he says Allegiant is taking command authority out of the cockpit.
"They're painting a very clear picture that your decision making, if it's not in the interest of profit, it's gonna result in your punishment. It's gonna result in you being terminated, it could result in the end of your career."
We reached out to Allegiant, but they refused to comment. 
Below is a list of incidents involving Allegiant flights since June 2015. 
-- October 11 and 12: In Las Vegas Allegiant experienced two aborted take-offs back-to-back 
-- October 12:  An Allegiant plane engine caught fire shortly after take-off in Las Vegas 
-- August 7: In Asheville passengers flying to Punta Gorda had to change their travel plans due to an unspecified maintenance issue that forced Flight 977 to return to Asheville 
-- August 17: In Las Vegas pilots abruptly halted their roll on the runway at 138 miles (222 kilometers) an hour to regain control of the Boeing Co. MD-83. 
-- July 4: In Asheville an Allegiant plane was forced to declare an emergency landing on its way to Punta Gorda after an indicator light pointed to a problem with the alignment of the aircraft’s spoilers 
-- July 16: Passengers on a plane from Jacksonville to Pittsburgh were held for over an hour on the tarmac before being ushered off again because of a mechanical problem. After staying overnight, passengers again boarded the same plane only to be held yet again for about an hour and sent off for another night because of a mechanical problem. 
-- July 23: A plane from Las Vegas flew into a closed airport in Fargo, N.D. and was forced to declare an emergency landing due to low fuel. 
-- June 13: Allegiant passengers coming from Los Angeles to Boise were forced to evacuate onto the wing of their plane after it landed at the Boise Airport. 
Throughout June, Allegiant canceled six flights out of PIE because of “operational” difficulties 
Audio files