Saturday, October 07, 2017

Ogden, Utah: Despite reports about safety issues, officials confident in Allegiant Air

OGDEN — Despite some high-profile media reports detailing safety issues on Allegiant Air flights, Ogden officials say they’re confident in the carrier delivering commercial service out of the city’s airport.

On Thursday, the Nevada-based budget airline began new, nonstop service to Los Angeles from the Ogden-Hinckley Airport — the latest activity in a push to expand commercial service and increase revenue at an airport that is subsidized between $500,000 to $750,000 a year.

The airline began providing commercial service between Ogden and Mesa, Arizona, in 2012 and currently offers those flights two days per week. The city announced the new Los Angeles service, a deal that included about $550,000 in city incentives, in June. 

The new flights to L.A. also run twice weekly, and there are plans to add destinations like Oakland and Florida.

Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell and airport manager Jon Greiner said the service to Arizona has been a resounding success in terms of ticket sales, with flights averaging over 90 percent capacity during the five-year operation.

While things have thus far gone smoothly in Ogden, in-flight safety issues on other Allegiant flights have been reported by multiple news agencies.

The Associated Press recently reported on a Sept. 25 incident in which smoke filled the cabin of an Allegiant flight from Las Vegas after it landed at the Fresno International Airport in California. The AP said coughing passengers were forced to cover their faces with shirts and firefighters boarded the plane.

There were 150 passengers and six crew members on the flight, and no one was injured. Allegiant said the smoke was caused by a mechanical problem, and Federal Aviation Administration officials called the episode an emergency, according to the AP.

Prior to that incident, the AP, The Washington Post, The Tampa Bay Times, USA Today and several travel industry publications published stories in the fall of 2016 cataloging a high number of mechanical breakdowns on Allegiant flights.

In an investigative piece published by The Times on Nov. 2, 2016, the paper reported that in 2015 “Allegiant jets were forced to make unexpected landings at least 77 times for serious mechanical failures.”

A Washington Post story from Sept. 1, 2016, compared Allegiant’s fleet of planes with similar vintage planes flown by Delta Air Lines. Between January 2015 and March 2016, Allegiant had about nine times as many serious incidents as Delta — even though Delta was flying about three times the number of planes Allegiant was.

The Times’ reporting on the airline has been extensive and continuous. In May of this year, the paper reported that three Allegiant MD-83s had mid-air engine-related breakdowns in March, all three causing emergency landings.

Last year, the FAA conducted a three-month review of Allegiant. After it finished, the agency found the airline was addressing problems uncovered in the review and that none of Allegiant’s problems were serious enough to justify any sanctions, according to the AP. 

Caldwell and Greiner both said they aren’t aware of any serious safety incidents happening on flights to or from Ogden in the five years Allegiant has flown out of the city airport.

“We’ve had delays, just like you see at any other airport on any other airline,” Greiner said. “But there’s never been any serious safety issues.”

The airport manager said the FAA has “four or five different teams” that regularly conduct safety inspections at the airport. Caldwell said the FAA’s oversight in Ogden is wide-ranging and demanding, and the city trusts the federal agency to insure flight safety.

“Safety is the number one priority of everyone involved,” Caldwell said. “If we didn’t think it was safe, we’d back out immediately.”

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