- An Airbus A320, previously operated by Alaska Airlines, made a safe emergency landing during a maintenance test flight.
- An alert in the cockpit reportedly prompted the pilots to request an emergency landing.
- The retired A320, still owned by Alaska, may be picked up by another airline in the future.
An Airbus A320, operated by Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, made an emergency landing at San Antonio International Airport (SAT) on Friday. The aircraft was reportedly performing a maintenance test flight when the incident occurred.
No passengers were onboard, and the aircraft landed safely. Alaska retired the jet from passenger service a few years ago, but the test flight coincides with reports that its days of flying passengers are not over yet.
Details of the incident
According to San Antonio local NBC affiliate WOAI, emergency crews responded to the scene involving N632VA. The 16-year-old A320 was flying a maintenance test flight from SAT as ASA9524 and departed from Runway 30L on Friday at 16:52, data from FlightAware indicates. The aircraft quickly gained speed and climbed in altitude, reaching 12,000 feet five minutes into the flight. Heading east, the plane reached 14,200 feet but remained at the altitude briefly and then descended to 13,500 feet.
As the aircraft turned south, its altitude fluctuated greatly, which may have been due to the routine testing, but its speed was rapidly decreasing. 21 minutes into the flight, the A320 was traveling at 140 miles per hour while situated about 15,000 feet – a speed dangerously low at that altitude, depending on the aircraft’s weight. It then descended slightly, which naturally increased its speed, but at 24 minutes in the air, the plane made a sharp turn to the northwest, back toward SAT.
It continued descending, and its speed increased further, reaching about 400 miles per hour at 8,000 feet. At 17:27, N632VA was on final approach and landed two minutes later, back on Runway 30L.
During the flight, an alert was noticed in the cockpit, prompting the pilots to request an emergency landing, according to WOAI. Simple Flying contacted Alaska for further comment on Sunday, but a representative could not be immediately reached.
A new home?
It is unclear whether the aircraft was bound for another destination during the test flight or if it planned to return to SAT, and the emergency just cut it short. According to Flightradar24.com, the plane was retired by Alaska in 2022. It flew from Oakland International Airport to SAT on March 18, 2022, and has remained at the airport ever since. In April of last year, it flew a test flight and then remained grounded until Friday’s test flight.
Although the aircraft has been removed from service, Alaska still owns and operates it, and crews must perform routine maintenance regularly to maintain flying conditions. Photos from WOAI also show that the aircraft, alongside another Airbus aircraft, is still painted in Alaska’s livery.
Photo: News 4 San Antonio (WOAI)
According to Planespotters.net, N632VA will likely see more test flights in the future as it is “due” to be picked up by Air Canada. The Canadian airline currently operates 13 A320s but plans to acquire five more – four of which are former Alaska birds.
Air Canada also has plans to retrofit the interior of eight A320s to feature larger overhead bins, cabin lighting, and inflight entertainment. The carrier’s first A321 to receive the interior upgrades was unveiled in October of last year. It is unclear if the former Alaska planes will be retrofitted.