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Allegiant grounds planes; U.S. FAA seeks data on slides

(Reuters) - Allegiant Travel Co , a low-cost carrier that provides service to leisure destinations, is grounding as many as 30 of its aircraft, or roughly half of its fleet, to inspect emergency evacuation slides in response to an FAA request for information.

The company's shares fell about 5 percent.

In a statement on Friday, Allegiant cited a "compliance issue" that will necessitate prompt inspections of the evacuation slides in its MD-80 aircraft. It added that the move would lead to delays and cancellations, and said the process was expected to be completed by the end of this month.

The Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday it directed Allegiant to report on the status of the slides on its MD-80s after it investigated an emergency evacuation of Allegiant Flight 436 at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas on Monday.

"The FAA this week became aware that Allegiant Air may not have inspected some emergency evacuation slides on its MD-80 fleet at required intervals," Ian Gregor, public affairs manager with the FAA Pacific Division, said in a statement.

The Monday flight evacuation took place after smoke was seen coming from an Allegiant plane, according to local media reports. The FAA statement said all passengers on board that Allegiant flight were safety evacuated.

"We directed them to report on the slides' inspection status," Gregor added in an email. "Allegiant will do the inspections now that they're aware of the issue."

Las Vegas-based Allegiant, which offers flights to leisure destinations such as Orlando and Fort Lauderdale in Florida and cities in Hawaii, operates 57 MD-80 aircraft, six Boeing 757-200 aircraft, and one Airbus A319. The MD-80 was made by McDonnell Douglas, which Boeing Co acquired in 1997.

"We apologize for the disruption to our passengers and ask that they please remain patient as we work to correct the issue, reschedule affected flights and accommodate any passengers impacted," said Andrew Levy, president of Allegiant Travel, said in a statement.

Allegiant shares closed down $5.08 at $97.91 on the Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Karen Jacobs in Atlanta.; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Andre Grenon)

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