Sunday, April 15, 2018

Why this Iowa State aerospace expert 'would not fly' on Allegiant Air after 60 Minutes story

An Iowa State aerospace engineer says he would not board an Allegiant Air jet after this week's 60 Minutes story that critically questioned the low-cost carrier's safety record.

"I would not fly them," said Leonard Bond, director of Iowa State University's Center for Nondestructive Evaluation, which studies the safety of everything from aircraft to pipelines. "There does appear to be a problem. That's what the numbers seem to say."

Bond, a professor of aerospace engineering and mechanical engineering, said he prefers to fly mainline carriers like Delta and United, which tout better reputations and more modern aircraft than Allegiant's aging fleet. But he said most consumers don't pay attention to the safety records of the airlines they fly.

"They don’t. Most people are going to buy on the basis of cheapness of the airline ticket," he said. "It does require a little bit more homework. But the information is out there."

On Sunday, 60 Minutes became the latest media outlet to highlight a long list of safety problems at the Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air. The analysis concluded that the airline is three and a-half times more likely to have serious in-flight mechanical failures than other U.S. airlines.

It mirrored conclusions of previous reports in the Tampa Bay Times and the Washington Post. 

In response, Allegiant Air criticized the veracity of the 60 Minutes story and defended its safety record.

What's the problem?

The 60 Minutes piece relied on federal aviation records as well as interviews with pilots, mechanics and industry experts, concluding the low-cost  carrier "may also be the most dangerous."

Between January 1st, 2016 and October 2017, 60 Minutes counted more than 100 serious mechanical incidents on Allegiant. Those included mid-air engine failures, smoke and fumes in the cabin, rapid descents, flight control malfunctions, hydraulic leaks and aborted takeoffs, according to the report.

The show found that the airline was nearly three-and-a-half times more likely to have mid-air breakdowns than American, United, Delta, JetBlue and Spirit. 

In an interview, John Duncan, executive director of flight standards at the Federal Aviation Administration, defended the agency's oversight of the airline.

"We're satisfied that — that we are — we are taking the appropriate actions with regard to Allegiant and every other carrier that we work with to make sure that those problems have been — have been appropriately dealt with."

CBS Reporter Steve Kroft called that "a very optimistic assessment" of the situation.

What does the airline say?

For its part, the airline has vehemently defended its safety record. 

Capt. Eric Gust, Allegiant’s vice president of operations, issued a statement after the program saying the story was outdated and said it showed a “troubling misunderstanding” of the Federal Aviation Administration’s safety oversight of airlines.

"I want to tell you personally that I am outraged and astounded by the irresponsible, grossly misleading story aired by CBS 60 minutes," Gust said in a statement to customers. "To you, a member of our Allegiant family of travelers, I want to be very clear: safety is at the core of every aspect of our operation, every day."

Gust noted that Allegiant had the second-lowest rate of canceled flights in January, at 0.9% of its flights, according to Transportation Department statistics.

As part of its response to the Des Moines Register Monday, Allegiant forwarded a statement from Capt. Steven Allen, who has flown for nearly 20 years, the last four years with Allegiant. 

"It is offensive to me and the hundreds of hardworking men and women I fly with every day to assume that we would ever knowingly operate unsafe aircraft," he wrote. 

Allegiant's stock price fell more than 3% by 4:30 p.m. Monday, to about $151 per share. And at least one Wall Street analyst worried that the CBS report could end up hitting the airline's bottom line. 

"We found little in the way of incrementally negative data points concerning Allegiant's operational challenges over the past few years on last night's 60 Minutes," Stifel analyst Joseph DeNardi wrote in a note to clients Monday, according to CNBC. "The bottom line is that, true or false, that was 30 minutes of horrible publicity for Allegiant with sound bites that will extend the story. We'd be surprised if there isn't an impact to bookings in the nearish term."

So what should consumers do?

Bond, the Iowa State expert, said he was alarmed by the tally 60 Minutes counted of more than 100 serious mechanical problems at Allegiant over a 22-month period.

"Clearly that should be a red flag that says they really need to take a serious look," he said. 

While he prefers to fly more modern aircraft, Bond said airlines can and do safely operate vintage fleets. It just requires a culture that prioritizes maintenance and safety, he said. 

"We’ve got B-52s that the Air Force has been flying for God knows how long," he said. "So it's not the age of the aircraft that is the problem."

Oftentimes, it can take a crash or other horrible incident to usher in changes in an airline's safety practices, Bond said. He pointed to Korean Airlines, which 

"Tragically, it usually seems to require a crash and loss of life to get safety changes," he said. 

But he noted that flying on the whole is still far safer than other means of transportation.

"Air flight is still a heck of a lot safer than driving to the airport," he said. "In essence, our general system is pretty good. Our safety record in this country is pretty good and it works pretty well."

Allegiant's rise in Iowa

Allegiant's competitive advantage has relied on pairing cold departure cities with warm destinations through nonstop flights.

It began service to Des Moines in June 2003, launching the only direct service to Las Vegas at that time. Now, the airline flies direct to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Punta Gorda, Orlando Sanford and St. Petersburg-Clearwater.

Flying direct to vacation hot spots saves travelers' time by avoiding connections at major airport hubs in places like Atlanta and Dallas. 

Allegiant also positions itself as a budget carrier, advertising some flights for as low as $35 each way on its website. 

Since 2003, Allegiant has grown into a popular low-cost carrier in Iowa. 

In 2017, it flew about 235,000 passengers in and out of Des Moines, a 4 percent increase from the prior year. That represented only about 9 percent of the city's air traffic.

In Des Moines, Allegiant fell well behind the traffic of mainline carriers: American Airlines carried about 751,000 Des Moines passengers last year, Delta had 619,000 passengers and United carried nearly 594,000 passengers. 

Kevin Foley, executive director and general manager of the Des Moines International Airport, said he could not comment on the airline's local safety record. 

"I don't have any statistics at all. This is an airline issue," he said. "I just don't really have any comment on it at all."

The airport is not notified about every potential safety or mechanical problem. Rather, it is notified for events like emergency landings, which would require airport firefighters to respond. Such events have occurred, but Foley had no break down based on individual airlines.

"Yeah, it's happened with a number of the airlines," Foley said. "To give you specifics on any airline, I just don't have that."

Story and video ➤ https://www.desmoinesregister.com


Chris Matyszczyk 
Absurdly Driven

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

It was always going to be an uncomfortable ride.

As soon as CBS's 60 Minutes announced it was presenting two segments on Allegiant Air -- the budget airline that was said two years ago to have 4 times the mid-air breakdowns of any other airline -- it seemed sure the portrayal wouldn't be flattering.

The suggestion made in the program was that Allegiant cut corners on safety, in order to garner greater profits. It contrasted the fact that the airline is one of the most profitable in the U.S. with the notion that "it may also be the most dangerous." 

Between January 1st, 2016 and the end of last October, we found more than 100 serious mechanical incidents, including mid-air engine failures, smoke and fumes in the cabin, rapid descents, flight control malfunctions, hydraulic leaks and aborted takeoffs," said 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft.

There were intimations that pilots were allegedly being discouraged from reporting mechanical issues with their planes.

There was a suggestion that a pilot, Jason Kinzer, had been fired for evacuating a plane after its cockpit was filled with smoke -- the airline had allegedly deemed the evacuation unnecessary.

Of Allegiant's 99 planes, 25 had experienced engine failure in two years, said CBS.

There were tales from passengers who said they'd been forced to sit in a fume-filled cabin for 12-15 minutes and been told by the captain to "breathe through their shirts."

There was Teamsters 1224 Union leader Capt. Daniel Wells, who represents Allegiant's pilots among those of other airlines, saying: "What I hear from hundreds of conversations with Allegiant pilots, is the management of Allegiant seems to denigrate the pursuit of safety."

Yet there was John Duncan, the executive director of flight standards at the Federal Aviation Administration, saying that each of Allegiant's 100 mechanical incidents had been dealt with on an individual basis and giving the impression that everything was fine. 

This is, apparently, in line with the FAA's new approach of working with the airlines, rather than fining them and holding them up to public scrutiny.

There was Kroft telling the story of an Allegiant pilot who aborted takeoff at Las Vegas airport because something didn't feel right. 

Subsequently, an FAA investigator found that a vital component had not been maintained.

Said 60 Minutes: 

Allegiant and its maintenance contractor, AAR, failed to perform procedures that would have caught the error no less than five times. The report called it 'a deliberate and systemic act of non-compliance' that had endangered thousands of passengers on more than 200 subsequent Allegiant flights.

All of this made me feel queasy.

So I asked Allegiant for its view.

I received a statement attributed to Captain Eric Gust, vice-president of operations.

He said the program offered "a false narrative."

With respect to Kinzer, for example, he said -- quoting his company's revised motion for summary judgment in the case: 

Kinzer was terminated because he unnecessarily evacuated a plane 'at great risk to the crew and passengers' even though there 'was no smoke, fire, or an aircraft malfunction,' and, during a post-flight investigation, he refused to 'acknowledge his mistakes; or 'demonstrate that he was capable of learning and growing from the event going forward.'

He added: 

To suggest that Allegiant would engage in the practice of asking team members to violate company and regulatory obligations is offensive and defamatory.

But it's the little gestures that, perhaps, make all the difference in the end.

The report on the Las Vegas incident only came out because the FAA sent it to the Tampa Bay Times by mistake.

Several passengers told 60 Minutes they were asked to take their carry-ons with them, as another plane was evacuated. They believe that this was to suggest nothing abnormal had happened at all.

Then there's this.

When 60 Minutes made a Freedom of Information Act request for mechanical interruption summary reports, it says it got them from seven U.S. airlines. 

One objected. 

It was, indeed, Allegiant.

It may be that, as the years go by, Allegiant will continue to modernize its fleet, as it phases out its oldest MD-80 planes.

But, for now, I'm going to maintain my 100 percent record of never having flown on Allegiant.

True, it hasn't endured a fatal accident. 

But the CBS program offered just enough to warrant a little caution. 

I'm fond of a little caution when it comes to flying.

Story and video ➤ https://www.inc.com

FAA’s response to the 60 Minutes story (PDF) of April 15, 2018 includes:

Signed letter from Ali Bahrami, Associate Administrator, Aviation Safety
FAA Order 8000.373, FAA Compliance Philosophy
FAA Order 8000.72, FAA Integrated Oversight Philosophy

https://www.faa.gov/pdf



Allegiant Air is a small, ultra-low-cost carrier based in Las Vegas, that happens to be one of the country's most profitable airlines. But, according to federal aviation records and interviews with pilots, mechanics and industry experts, it may also be the most dangerous.

The airline flew 12 million passengers last year on its 99 planes to 120 destinations from California to Florida. But it's had persistent problems since at least the summer of 2015 when it experienced a rash of mid-air breakdowns, including five on a single day. It was not a fluke.

Public documents show an alarming number of aborted takeoffs, cabin pressure loss, emergency descents, and unscheduled landings. Yet for the most part, allegiant's difficulties have managed to stay under the radar of the flying public.

It's entirely possible that you have never heard of Allegiant or flown on one of its planes. But if you shop for the cheapest ticket, live near cities like Pittsburgh or Cincinnati that are underserved by major airlines or you rely on regional airports, then you probably recognize the company's colors and logo.

Allegiant has some of the lowest fares, the least frills, and the oldest fleet in the business. Right now, nearly 30% of its planes are antiquated, gas-guzzling McDonnell-Douglas MD-80s, almost all of them purchased second-hand from foreign airlines. It also has more than its share of angry, traumatized passengers willing to share their experiences.

Dan Mannheim: People are screaming. The stewardess are running up and down the aisles.

Chris: And then the smoke started pouring in out of all the vents you know, started filling the cabin up with smoke.

Shanyl: All I kept thinking was, "Thank God we're on the ground."

For the past seven months, we have been scrutinizing 'service difficulty reports' filed by Allegiant with the FAA. They are official, self-reported records of problems experienced by their aircraft. What we found raised some disturbing questions about the performance of their fleet. Between January 1st, 2016 and the end of last October, we found more than 100 serious mechanical incidents, including mid-air engine failures, smoke and fumes in the cabin, rapid descents, flight control malfunctions, hydraulic leaks and aborted takeoffs.

John Goglia: Something significant is going on and it should be addressed

We shared the reports with John Goglia who has more than 40 years of experience in the aviation industry, including nine years as a presidential appointee to the National Transportation Safety Board. Now retired, Goglia remains a respected figure in the aviation industry and occasionally testifies as an expert witness on safety issues.

John Goglia: There's another one, engine fire.

We wanted to know what he thought of Allegiant's 60 unscheduled landings and 46 in-flight emergencies.

Steve Kroft: I mean, is that common for an airline of this size?

John Goglia: Very, very high for an airline of this size. I hate to make comparisons-- but we've seen that before in airlines that are no longer with us that had experienced a number of accidents and killed a bunch of people. I don't wanna repeat that. So I try to push on Allegiant to-- to-- clean up their operation.

Steve Kroft: What do those reports say about Allegiant?

John Goglia: Well, just the service difficulty reports say that-- somebody's not paying attention.

Steve Kroft: You're a former member of the NTSB. Would you fly on an Allegiant plane?

John Goglia: I have encouraged my family, my friends and myself not to fly on Allegiant.

We wanted to ask Allegiant and its CEO, Maurice Gallagher about all of this, what they gave us instead was a brief statement from their vice president of operations which says, in part:

"All of us at Allegiant are proud of our strong safety record, as noted in the most current, comprehensive FAA audit.  Safety is at the forefront of our minds and the core of our operations."

But John Goglia and other aviation experts we talked to aren't so sure. They believe Allegiant's problems come from the confluence of its aggressive business model and a safety culture they find to be lagging. The business strategy which has produced 60 straight quarters of profits, occasionally with margins approaching 30 percent, requires the airline to keep costs down and "push the metal" – keep the planes flying as often as possible. But Allegiant's aged fleet of MD-80s, which it is phasing out and is responsible for most of its problems, require a lot of maintenance and reliable parts are hard to come by.

Steve Kroft: Is there anything that separates the maintenance systems at Allegiant from the ones at the larger carriers?

John Goglia: Well, the first and most obvious piece is the lack of infrastructure. They don't have the number of mechanics. And we've seen some problems with the contractors that they've used. We're seeing problems that require-- feet on the ground, people looking at the airplanes when they're being worked on so that these problems are caught during maintenance and not caught by the f-- crew as-- as a surprise and emergency.

We found numerous planes with the same recurring issues and others returned to service before they were ready. Like Allegiant Flight 533 last July, which was delayed in Cincinnati on its flight to Las Vegas.

Mercedes Weller and Dan Mannheim, who says he paid $80 for his roundtrip ticket to Vegas, remember the pilot's announcement as they pushed away from the gate three hours behind schedule.

Mercedes Weller: He came on and he said, "The mechanics have been working on this right engine. We apologize for that. We'll get you up in the air as soon as possible." As we started taxiing, everything was going okay. And then it's, like, as soon as the wheels came up, the engine blew.

Passenger Video: Here we go, we're taking off. Say blastoff! Oh [expletive].

Mercedes Weller: The force of it was so hard that it-- it popped open the cockpit doors. And there was smoke in the cabin and fire coming out of that engine. And I just remember thinking that I would never see my daughter again.

Weller and Mannheim said the plane had to circle at a low altitude on one engine for about 25 minutes while the airport ground crews cleared debris from the runway for an emergency landing.

Dan Mannheim: Everyone turned their phones back on. And I called my family. And-- I pretty much tellin' 'em goodbyes.

Steve Kroft: You thought this was it?

Mercedes Weller: I text my husband. And I said "If something happens, just know that I've been very happy. And I love you."

The plane eventually landed safely back in Cincinnati. For their trouble, Allegiant offered to re-book Mercedes and Dan the next day and gave everyone a $150 voucher.


John Goglia, who spent nine years as a presidential appointee to the National Transportation Safety Board.

But that was not the only problem Allegiant's small fleet encountered last July. There were nine other Allegiant planes that also had to make unscheduled landings during that month. Four of those planes had engine problems, two reported fumes in the cabin, four had instrument or flight control problems. And that's not all.

Steve Kroft: Over the course of one weekend in July, Allegiant canceled or rescheduled 11 separate flights leaving Las Vegas, all for mechanical issues.

John Goglia: You think that's a big red flag? Yeah--

Steve Kroft: Something's wrong

John Goglia: Something's wrong.

Among the most concerned are the people that have to fly the planes. Daniel Wells, a captain for Atlas Air, with 30 years experience, is president of Teamsters Union 1224 which represents pilots from Allegiant and nine other airlines. We wanted to know how unusual it was for a small airline with 99 planes to have 25 engine failures or malfunctions in less than two years.

Daniel Wells: Well, I-- I don't have all the data in front of me to compare with other airlines. But I can say that those are extraordinarily high numbers.

Steve Kroft: Outside the norm?

Daniel Wells: Outside the norm for sure. If I come into a career as an airline pilot now, I will go my entire career, maybe 30 years, and never have an engine failure, ever.

Steve Kroft: What are Allegiant pilots telling you about their airline?

Daniel Wells: What I hear from hundreds of conversations with Allegiant pilots, is the management of Allegiant seems to denigrate the pursuit of safety.

Steve Kroft: Why are we unable to talk to any Allegiant pilots?

Daniel Wells: Well-- (LAUGH) I think that says volumes about the company. I would love to put up some of the-- Allegiant pilots. But they can't. And they can't because they know that they would be terminated. At the very least, disciplined. And that's just for speaking up about concerns. So I have to speak on their behalf.

Captain Wells says they have every reason to fear retaliation considering what happened to one of Allegiant's pilots three summers ago.

On June 8, 2015, this Allegiant MD-80 jet with 141 passengers aboard had just left St. Petersburg, Florida for Hagerstown, Maryland when a flight attendant informed the pilot that there was smoke in the cabin.  

ATC RADIO TRANSMISSION:  

Allegiant 864: This is Allegiant 864, declaring an emergency at this time.

Concerned about a fire, Captain Jason Kinzer and his co-pilot made a quick decision.

Allegiant 864:  We need to return to St. Pete's. The flight attendants are reporting smoke in the cabin.

Tower: Allegiant 864. Roger. Cleared back to St. Pete airport.


Captain Kinzer landed the plane and was met at the end of the runway by fire and rescue trucks that confirmed his concerns.

ATC RADIO TRANSMISSION:

Rescue Fire:  I'm showing some smoke on your number one engine.

Allegiant 864: Verify…you're showing smoke on the number one engine?


Rescue Fire:  That's affirmative.


Allegiant 864: Uh, Tower ground. Allegiant 864 we're going to be evacuating.


Rescue Fire: 864, roger.


Unidentified Voice: 864, hold off on your evacuation, please.


Allegiant 864: Who said to hold off?


It would take another 22 seconds and prompting from ground control before that voice identified himself as 'Rescue Fire 2'. But, with the clock ticking and confusing radio chatter, Kinzer did what he had been trained to do: he deployed the emergency chutes and evacuated the aircraft, with eight people sustaining mostly minor injuries. 

The incident drew unwanted attention to Allegiant but nothing compared to what followed six weeks later when the airline abruptly fired Kinzer for his actions.

Daniel Wells: I haven't spoken to a single captain, both Allegiant and otherwise that knows the details, that didn't say, "He absolutely did the right thing. And if I was there, I woulda done exactly the same thing."

Loretta Alkalay: I've never ever heard of an airline firing a pilot for an emergency evacuation.

Loretta Alkalay has a lot of experience in things like this. She spent 30 years at the FAA prosecuting enforcement cases in the northeast region. She was particularly annoyed by Allegiant's letter of termination that blamed Kinzer for what it called an "evacuation that was entirely unwarranted" and for not "striving to preserve the company's assets".

Loretta Alkalay: Yeah, it's really-- it's really outrageous. And-- and that's where the FAA should have stepped in to look at the safety culture because the message to all the other Allegiant pilots is: don't ever have an emergency evacuation if you don't see flames in the cockpit. I mean, that's-- what other message could you get?

Steve Kroft: Did the FAA investigate?

Loretta Alkalay: I have been told that they never questioned the-- the pilot.

We decided to question the FAA.

Steve Kroft: As far as the FAA is concerned, what's more important: the safety of the passengers or the assets of the airliner?

John Duncan: Certainly the safety of the passengers is what's always important.

John Duncan is the executive director of flight standards at the Federal Aviation Administration. He oversees the operations, maintenance and airworthiness of all U.S. carriers.

Steve Kroft: That doesn't seem to be the values of Allegiant as expressed in this letter of termination. You've seen it, right?

John Duncan: I've seen the letter, yes. But just that letter, and-- and nothing else, so I don't know the rest of the story in that regard.

Steve Kroft: So nobody asked you to conduct an investigation so you haven't?

John Duncan: To my knowledge we haven't been asked to investigate, through a whistleblower complaint, the termination of the captain.

Steve Kroft: What do you think the FAA should have done?

Loretta Alkalay: Well, they should have been all over that. I mean, it's outrageous. What kind of safety culture would allow that to happen. I mean, it's just so inimical to safety.

Captain Jason Kinzer filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Allegiant, which is scheduled to be tried next month. As for the FAA, which is charged with enforcing airline safety in the U.S., it has not brought a single enforcement action against Allegiant in nearly three years. How can that be?

Allegiant Air is an ultra-low-cost carrier primarily known for its rock-bottom fares and its high profit margins. But what really sets it apart from the competition is that its planes have been nearly three and a half times more likely to have serious in-flight mechanical failures than other U.S. Airlines. That figure comes from a seven-month review we conducted of safety records on file with the Federal Aviation Administration. What's equally surprising to us is what some have called the FAA's passive approach to correcting Allegiant's difficulties.

It has to do with a change of policy. Over the last three years, the FAA has switched its priorities from actively enforcing safety rules with fines, warning letters and sanctions-which become part of the public record-to working quietly with the airlines behind the scenes to fix the problems. It may well be what's allowed Allegiant to fly under the radar.

But Loretta Alkalay, who spent 30 years as an FAA lawyer, says it does not absolve the agency of its responsibility to ensure airline safety.

Steve Kroft: The FAA's job is to enforce airline safety, isn't it? Isn't that part of its job?

Loretta Alkalay: Yes. When the FAA knows that an airline has a problem, or there are sufficient red flags, it is supposed to step in and protect the public because airlines have to operate, by statute, to the highest level of safety.

Steve Kroft: And there are red flags here, in the case of Allegiant.

Loretta Alkalay: Yes, there's definitely red flags.

But you wouldn't know it talking with the FAA. We asked John Duncan, the executive director of flight standards, to comment on the more than one hundred serious mechanical incidents we found at Allegiant in a 22-month period ending last October.

Steve Kroft: Multiple engine failures, aborted takeoffs, cabin pressure loss. That's 100 serious incidents.

John Duncan: And we take those very seriously. And we look at each one of them. We look for the root cause, and-- and then we address that root cause, and assure that a fix is put in place to make sure that that problem is resolved and doesn't reoccur.

Steve Kroft: And you're satisfied that all of the problems with Allegiant have been fixed?

John Duncan: We're satisfied that-- that we are-- we are taking the appropriate actions with regard to Allegiant and every other carrier that we work with to make sure that those problems have been-- have been appropriately dealt with.

Looking at the FAA's records, you would have to conclude that that is a very optimistic assessment. Go back to August 17, 2015 -- around the time the FAA switched priorities from enforcement to compliance – and you can see the differences in their approach. Allegiant Flight 436 was leaving Las Vegas full of passengers when it nearly crashed on takeoff. Barreling down the runway, the pilot had trouble controlling the plane. Running out of asphalt, he made a last-second decision to abort, traveling at 120 knots per hour, barely avoiding disaster.

John Goglia: Something inside him said, "I'm not putting this in the air." And thank God he didn't, because that was-- gonna result in a bad outcome.

The problem turned out to be a missing cotter pin that holds together essential components necessary for the pilot to fly the plane. John Goglia is a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

John Goglia: I mean, this is a critical flight control. So this isn't-- isn't fixing a coffee maker. This is fixing a critical flight component and obviously, that wasn't done adequately.

According to the detailed report from the FAA investigator, Allegiant and its maintenance contractor, AAR, failed to perform procedures that would have caught the error no less than five times. The report called it "a deliberate and systemic act of non-compliance" that had endangered thousands of passengers on more than 200 subsequent Allegiant flights.

The inspector recommended strong enforcement action and maximum fines. But superiors, citing the new compliance philosophy, ignored the recommendations and closed the case.

Loretta Alkalay: Actually, the file called for a much larger investigation, but the FAA just said-- basically letter of correction, which means nothing.

Steve Kroft: So, it wasn't even a slap on the wrist.

Loretta Alkalay: Right.

Steve Kroft: Or barely a slap on the wrist.

Loretta Alkalay: Well letters of correction are nothing, they are not enforcement action. There's no record. I mean, the FAA knows that there's a letter of correction, but you can't use it to augment a sanction. They're just-- they're basically nothing.

Steve Kroft: Are you aware that your own investigator recommended a heavy fine?

John Duncan: Yes.

Steve Kroft: And yet, to our knowledge, there was no enforcement action. No fine.

John Duncan: So as we--

Steve Kroft: Nothing other than what's been described to us as not even a slap on the wrist. That was a major screw up, wasn't it?

John Duncan: This was certainly a major event. And-- and so our charge in these kinds of events is to assure that they don't happen again.

Steve Kroft: This was three years ago. I mean this was 2015. And we've had all these other incidents, these 100 incidents, that have occurred since then. It seems like they're on top of it?

John Duncan: All those incidents have been addressed as I've described multiple times.

Back in 2015, the only people that seemed to be paying attention to Allegiant were reporters at the Tampa Bay Times. The airline has a major hub in St. Petersburg and the paper began keeping track of Allegiant's missteps, digging into records and documenting the potential dangers. The coverage prodded the FAA to undertake a thorough review of Allegiant's operations in April of 2016. Three months later, the FAA concluded there were no serious deficiencies,  recertified the airline for five more years and says it has been monitoring ever since without noticing any systemic problems.

But last July, while Allegiant was having a very bad month, we decided to follow up where the Tampa Bay Times had left off to see if the airline had improved its operations. We filed a Freedom of Information request with the FAA asking for more than a year's worth of mechanical interruption summary reports from Allegiant and seven other airlines so we could make a comparison. We received the documents for every airline except Allegiant, which objected to their release.

Steve Kroft: What do you make of that?

John Goglia: Well, obviously, they have something to hide. And you have-- a number of 'em from other airlines, a whole stack from United Airlines. Calls into question why Allegiant is stopping it. You know, is there something there that they don't want to see? Is there something there that the FAA doesn't want you to see, either? So that actually points at both of 'em.

Steve Kroft: Seven other airlines had no problem with us looking at their records.

John Duncan: I appreciate that.

Steve Kroft: Only Allegiant.

John Duncan: I have no idea what their rationale is in that regard.

Six days after this interview, the FAA overruled Allegiant's objections and produced the documents. They showed, on average, the airline was nearly three and a half times more likely to have mid-air breakdowns than American, United, Delta, JetBlue and Spirit.


Daniel Wells, a captain for Atlas Air, with 30 years experience, and president of Teamsters Union 1224 which represents pilots from Allegiant.


But even more disturbing are new allegations from the ranks of Allegiant's own pilots. Their union president, Captain Daniel Wells, says he's concerned that Allegiant is trying to gain a competitive cost advantage by softening safety standards adhered to by the major airlines. That pilots are being told to think twice before declaring costly emergencies. And that Allegiant's maintenance department tries to talk pilots out of reporting problems with their aircraft to avoid delays and keep the planes moving.

Daniel Wells: What I hear from the Allegiant pilots are-- they get-- a call from maintenance control, from-- who is-- an agent of the company and says, "Y-- you didn't write anything up, did you?" Meaning you didn't notice any maintenance problems on the airplane. And that's a very clear-- message to send to pilots that the company is discouraging you from-- recording maintenance deficiencies.

Steve Kroft: Is that legal?

Daniel Wells: No, because our captains are required to report any mechanical deficiencies of an aircraft.

In response, Allegiant's statement to us says, in part:

"Any employee who fails to report safety-related concerns through available channels is in violation of company policies, and may also be in violation of federal regulations."

Steve Kroft: The head of the pilots' union told us that Allegiant's maintenance operation is discouraging pilots from reporting mechanical difficulties on the flights. Would that alarm you?

John Duncan: Certainly discouraging pilots from reporting-- legitimate-- maintenance problems-- would concern me a great deal.

Steve Kroft: That's against the law, isn't it? I mean--

John Duncan: It's certainly against--

Steve Kroft: --aren't pilots required to report this?

John Duncan: They are. It certainly doesn't meet the safety standards that we would anticipate.

Steve Kroft: Have you ever heard this before?

John Duncan: I have not.

Steve Kroft: Is that something you might look into?

John Duncan: It's something that we do look into on a routine basis. Yes.

Steve Kroft: Is it something you will look into?

John Duncan: It's something we will continue to look into.

But even more disturbing are new allegations from the ranks of Allegiant's own pilots. Their union president, Captain Daniel Wells, says he's concerned that Allegiant is trying to gain a competitive cost advantage by softening safety standards adhered to by the major airlines. That pilots are being told to think twice before declaring costly emergencies. And that Allegiant's maintenance department tries to talk pilots out of reporting problems with their aircraft to avoid delays and keep the planes moving.

Daniel Wells: What I hear from the Allegiant pilots are-- they get-- a call from maintenance control, from-- who is-- an agent of the company and says, "Y-- you didn't write anything up, did you?" Meaning you didn't notice any maintenance problems on the airplane. And that's a very clear-- message to send to pilots that the company is discouraging you from-- recording maintenance deficiencies.

Steve Kroft: Is that legal?

Daniel Wells: No, because our captains are required to report any mechanical deficiencies of an aircraft.

In response, Allegiant's statement to us says, in part:

"Any employee who fails to report safety-related concerns through available channels is in violation of company policies, and may also be in violation of federal regulations."

Steve Kroft: The head of the pilots' union told us that Allegiant's maintenance operation is discouraging pilots from reporting mechanical difficulties on the flights. Would that alarm you?

John Duncan: Certainly discouraging pilots from reporting-- legitimate-- maintenance problems-- would concern me a great deal.

Steve Kroft: That's against the law, isn't it? I mean--

John Duncan: It's certainly against--

Steve Kroft: --aren't pilots required to report this?

John Duncan: They are. It certainly doesn't meet the safety standards that we would anticipate.

Steve Kroft: Have you ever heard this before?

John Duncan: I have not.

Steve Kroft: Is that something you might look into?

John Duncan: It's something that we do look into on a routine basis. Yes.

Steve Kroft: Is it something you will look into?

John Duncan: It's something we will continue to look into.

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

John Duncan should be promoted. He's got the "swamp's" bureaucratic babble down to a science.

Jim B said...


Since when has "60 Minutes" ever been a bastion of truth or technical understanding?

Their market attraction has always been demonizing someone or something. It's under the belt "entertainment" at some one else's expense. It sells, and to the gullible.

Remember that no-one in the media is under oath to tell the truth about anything.