Is Catastrophic Failure Inevitable for Allegiant Air?

Is Catastrophic Failure Inevitable for Allegiant Air?

If you’re like most people, you look for low fares when you want to fly, and some of the lowest around are found by traveling on the deep-discount airlines Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant. But a recent report from CBS’s “60 Minutes,” and a prediction by a Kentucky-based pilot and aviation professional, may give you pause if you fly Allegiant Airlines.

“A Sense of Urgency”

Allegiant is known for making short, nonstop trips at rock-bottom prices that come with few amenities. Locally, Allegiant flies out of the following Indiana airports: Indianapolis, Evansville, Fort Wayne, and South Bend. The airline also runs flights out of nearby Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, and Louisville, Lexington, and Owensboro, Kentucky. You may have flown Allegiant and may even like flying them. If you’re trying to take your family somewhere, you can’t beat the low cost.

But do the inexpensive fares mean you are sacrificing safety? Steve Kroft at “60 Minutes” believes their research supports the view that Allegiant is running an unsafe airline. Kroft, who has flown on a plane that was forced into an emergency crash landing, called the experience “very traumatic,” so the stories of those with bad experiences on Allegiant resonated with him.

Kroft stated that both he and his team experienced “a sense of urgency” regarding their investigation and the difficulties of accessing research in order to finish the report in a timely fashion. The show’s research team used the federal Freedom of Information Act to request data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for eight airlines, one of which was Allegiant. They then received information from the FAA for every airline except Allegiant, which objected to releasing failure logs concerning in-flight diversions or delays and mechanical interruption summary reports. Eventually the FAA overruled the airline’s objections, giving “60 Minutes” the information.

What the reports showed was telling. Between the first of January, 2016, and October 31, 2017, Allegiant underwent more than 100 critical mechanical events, which included:

  • Engine failures in mid-air
  • Passenger cabin smoke and fumes
  • Mechanical flight control crises
  • Aborted takeoffs
  • Hydraulic leaks
  • Precipitous descents.

The number of events is considered alarmingly high for an airline with a small fleet; Allegiant flies only 100 planes.

On average for the time period that the research team compared, Allegiant was approximately three and a half times more likely to experience a mid-air failure than the airlines Spirit, JetBlue, American, Delta, or United. It should be noted that Spirit also has a small fleet of approximately 118 planes.

A Distinguished Kentucky Aviator Speaks Out

Robert Riggs, who has worked as a flight instructor and also served on the Blue Grass Airport (Lexington, KY) Zoning Commission, claims that he can easily spot the red flags at Allegiant. He stated in a recent interview that he notified the FAA in 2013 when an Allegiant pilot waited until all doors were locked before ordering the plane to be refueled. Doing so could have resulted in a deadly fire. Riggs thinks the evidence is growing which will, in hindsight, point to a fatal error on the airline’s part if they do not change their ways. Riggs’s concluding opinion: “It’s inevitable that Allegiant’s going to have a catastrophic failure that’s going to get somebody hurt or killed.”

Allegiant’s Claims and ValuJet Connections

Eric Gust, vice president of Allegiant, called the “60 Minutes” story “grossly misleading.” The company claimed in a letter that the story is “outdated.” The company also pointed out that it had the second-lowest cancellation rate of any U.S. airline and that the “60 Minutes” report was instigated by a terminated employee.

Do you remember the Nineties airline ValuJet? It was a low-cost carrier that used the same business model that Allegiant does. The current CEO of Allegiant, Maurice Gallagher, was one of ValuJet’s founders. ValuJet experienced a horrendous crash during 1996 in the Florida Everglades in which 100 people—everyone aboard—perished. The airline never recovered from the catastrophe.

Both former National Transportation Safety Board member John Goglia and Loretta Alkalay, who worked for 30 years as an FAA attorney, are on record as saying they would never fly Allegiant. When asked by Steve Kroft about the matter, after a long pause, Alkalay replied, “I know that a lot of people talk about how they don’t fly Allegiant, so it’s very concerning. I know people that worked at the FAA who say they would never fly Allegiant.”

When something goes wrong, we are left to wonder.

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