Allegiant is an ultra low cost carrier with a bit of a different business model than Spirit or Frontier. They take Hall of Fame right fielder Wee Willie Keeler’s admonition to “hit ’em where they ain’t” seriously. If you need to fly from Mesa, Arizona to Pasco, Washington at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday they’re your airline. They’re cheap and they fly non-daily leisure routes no one else does.
60 Minutes ran a segment last night airing safety allegations about the airline. It didn’t really cover any new ground, but brought well-reported stories from a year and a half ago to a broader national audience. The key takeaway is that Allegiant is four times more likely to have in-flight emergencies than other airlines.
Forty-two of Allegiant’s 86 planes broke down in mid-flight at least once in 2015. Among them were 15 forced to land by failing engines, nine by overheating tail compartments and six by smoke or the smell of something burning.
After certain systems on Allegiant planes fail, the company repairs them and puts the planes back in service, only to see the same systems fail again. Eighteen times last year, key parts such as engines, sensors and electronics failed once in flight, got checked out, and then failed again, causing another unexpected landing.
Here’s the CBS segment:
The FAA has investigated incidents, and some issues have been blamed on AAR Air Services as their maintenance provider, while continuing to believe that the airline itself is safe. Those investigations have taken place both under the current and previous administration.
Although Allegiant has consistently had higher operating margins than most other airlines, diverting airplanes is not a profit maximizing strategy. They do operate older MD80s more prone to problems, although they’re replacing that fleet with newer used Airbus narrowbodies and with new planes. All of the reported issues have been with their MD80s. They’re down to 32 MD80s out of 100 planes, and every one is expected to be out of their fleet by the end of the year. (American Airlines is retiring its MD80 fleet as well.)
Copyright: boarding1now / 123RF Stock Photo
Allegiant has had more maintenance issues than other airlines. Although an MD83 overran a runway last week it’s their only incident of the year so far recorded by The Aviation Herald. There were fewer issues in 2017 than in 2016. The FAA though may be pressured to act differently by media, but I’m not convinced by CBS that the FAA is falling down on the job.
60 Minutes suggests aviation insiders don’t fly the airline, and that’s true — but they aren’t the target demographic anyway. I’d avoid MD80 flights over reliability issues, but already two-thirds of the fleet are Airbus A319s and A320s and those haven’t seemed to have problems. I still don’t want to fly Allegiant because of their business model not their safety.
Here’s an Allegiant plane battling strong crosswinds in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina as Hurricane Irma has been downgraded to a Tropical Storm.
— Ed Piotrowski (@EdPiotrowski) September 11, 2017
I don’t think, as One Mile at a Time says, “It’s clear Allegiant cuts corners with maintenance” and I don’t think it’s fair to say “this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given that Allegiant’s CEO used to work for ValuJet” since he founded WestAir, which served as a United Express operator, and he was an investor in and board member of ValuJet — which after its terrible 1996 accident became AirTran which was acquired by Southwest.
I’m not going to offer a judgment on Allegiant’s historical maintenance program. They’ve had incidents and there are people with an axe to grind who say the issue is safety. Even pilots made that charge during protracted contract negotiations, which is unusual in the industry, but those same pilots were willing to keep flying those same planes. The incidents are getting far less frequent as the carrier renews its fleet. All I’m suggesting is that the level of hysteria in the 60 Minutes report isn’t enough to convince me that the FAA is falling down on the job, and regular readers may know I’m predisposed to believe that regulators fail.
(HT: Jonathan W.)