Safety concerns revealed at Allegiant Air
Investigations by the United States media revealed what appears to be multiple technical and safety problems inside Allegiant Air.
Allegiant Air is a U.S.-based domestic low-cost company with a fleet of 99 aircraft, whose main routes are towards Florida and Las Vegas.
CBS’s investigative TV show 60 Minutes revealed numerous technical problems inside the airline. CBS also recorded more than a hundred serious mechanical incidents over 22 months, between 2016 and 2017. Similarly, back in 2015, another investigation of the Tampa Bay Times reported five mid-air incidents on Allegiant aircraft in a day which, for an airline this size, is very concerning.
The investigation points at the aging fleet which includes 30 years old model like 37 McDonnell-Douglas MD80s, the production of which stopped in 1999. A vast majority of the fleet is composed of second-hand planes. However, it is currently in a transition period. The company aims to replace its whole fleet by A320s, both new and second-hand, by 2020.
But blaming the MD80s would be simplistic. The two biggest airlines of the U.S. market, Delta and American Airlines, are also using them (106 in Delta’s fleet and 45 in AA’s). However, as Tampa Bay Times pointed it out back in 2015, Allegiant’s models are more than twice as likely to breakdown mid-air. According to the investigation ran by CBS, the number could be as high as 3.5 the rate of other U.S. airlines.
Like Tampa Bay Times in 2015, 60 Minutes is calling out the inaction of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the matter. The journalists are specifically describing an incident in August 17, 2015. At the time, a pilot aborted takeoff at the last minute as he felt he was losing control of the aircraft. FAA started an investigation and found that the maintenance contractor, AAR, was to blame as it failed to follow safety procedures. However, the consequences were thin.
Interviewed by CBS, Loretta Alkalay, former FAA lawyer, said the inspector called for an in-depth investigation into Allegiant’s maintenance practices at the time. In response, FAA produced a letter of correction for Allegiant, which , in Loretta’s words, was“nothing”.
In a public letter, Allegiant Vice President of operations Eric Gust describes the events described by CBS as “years old incidents”. However, the last incident CBS is referring to dates back to July 2017, when Allegiant flight 533’s right engine blew up and forced the plane into an emergency landing.
“As soon as the wheels came up, the engine blew.” With smoke in the cabin and one engine down, passengers on an Allegiant Air flight say they called loved ones to say goodbye. https://t.co/ontS0mktvV pic.twitter.com/MBgDWGzkWc— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) April 15, 2018
Following the media investigation, the U.S. Senator Bill Nelson sent the FAA a letter in which he urges to “conduct a full audit into the FAA’s current policies” and “review all internal communications between the FAA and Allegiant”.