Monday, April 18, 2016

Allegiant Air touts increased spending on safety

Allegiant Air maintains that it has one of the best safety records in the industry and accuses some media of unfairly focusing on its maintenance mishaps when such incidents are routine in the industry.

But in comments to reporters last week at Allegiant's Las Vegas headquarters, where the company held a "media day," the airline's chief operating officer touted efforts to improve operations as it spends more money on safety programs.

The COO, Jude Bricker, said the airline's efforts have led to a lower rate of service interruptions such as aborted takeoffs and emergency landings, from 2.81 per 1,000 flights in April 2015 to 1.37 last month, according to Bloomberg news. Engine failures, the carrier said, are either steady or falling.

"We're investing in everything we know to invest in," Bricker said. "Most of the indicators we watch are positive. Everything is moving in the right direction."

The comments are the latest sign that Allegiant, which flies 95 percent of the passenger traffic at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, has been dealing with concrete operational and safety issues even as it blasts its critics.

In January, Allegiant's leaders talked in a conference call with financial analysts about increasing the reliability of its fleet of roughly 80 aircraft and noted the airline's rapid growth has caused operations problems.

And in January, Allegiant COO Steve Harfst unexpectedly resigned as Allegiant leaders emphasized the change was an opportunity to "refocus" on operational needs and areas of improvement.

The Tampa Bay Times received no response Monday to a request for comment from Allegiant. The airline has stopped communicating with the Times because it has said the newspaper's reporting on a series of flight mishaps and other safety issues has been unfair.

Allegiant now has flights from about 50 cities to St. Pete-Clearwater airport, making it one of the busiest destinations in its network. So the airline is particularly sensitive to publicity in the Florida market.

That may be why Allegiant CEO Maurice Gallagher Jr. is scheduled to speak at a breakfast event hosted by state Sen. Jack Latvala on Thursday.

An April 15 story by Bloomberg reporter Mary Schlangenstein said Allegiant has hired an outside auditor to review its safety programs and regulatory compliance. In addition, the airline has invested in an "extensive safety database and risk assessment system" and has stepped up pilot training beyond what the Federal Aviation Administration requires.

Also, Allegiant said it is encouraging its employees to report issues to the airline by, among other things, providing tablets to all pilots and flight attendants in order to send information electronically.

Outside contractors who work on engines and other systems, Allegiant also noted, have been placed under increased oversight.

Allegiant is one of the fastest-growing airlines in the United States. But with its spectacular growth have come a steady stream of highly publicized maintenance problems that have caused emergency landings or aborted takeoffs.

The airline suffered five emergency landings the last week of 2015, for example, and had one aircraft that made four emergency landings in about six weeks. An Allegiant aircraft nearly crashed in August at Las Vegas after an elevator on its tail jammed, which would have made the aircraft uncontrollable. But pilots managed to abort the takeoff at 138 mph seconds before liftoff.

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