Allegiant Air defends safety record after '60 Minutes' report

USA Today Travel 7 days ago

Allegiant Air was on the defensive Monday after a scathing report on CBS’ 60 Minutes that blasted the airline’s safety record after reviewing 100 mechanical problems from January 2016 to October 2017.

Allegiant had three times as many mechanical problems with flights as six competing airlines during a year of reports filed with the Federal Aviation Administration, which 60 Minutes obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.

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

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 Eric Gust, issued a statement after the program that said the story was outdated and shows a “troubling misunderstanding” of the Federal Aviation Administration’s safety oversight of airlines.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

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

Allegiant's stock price fell more than 5% by 9:30 a.m. Monday, to about $143 per share. The airline is an ultra-low-cost carrier based in Las Vegas with 99 planes flying to 120 destinations.

At least one Wall Street analyst worried that the CBS report could end up hitting Allegiant'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."

The 60 Minutes story highlighted a couple of incidents. One was a July flight from Cincinnati to Las Vegas that had an engine failure after taking off. The story quoted passengers saying they thought they were going to die as they circled before landing safely. Allegiant offered to rebook the passengers the next day and gave each passenger a $150 voucher.

Another incident was in June 2015 on a flight from St. Petersburg, Fla., to Hagerstown, Md. The pilot, Capt. Jason Kinzer, returned to St. Petersburg because of reports of smoke in the cabin and evacuated the plane after returning to the ground.

Kinzer was fired three weeks later and is fighting the dismissal in court.

Allegiant pilots didn’t appear in the story. But their union president from a different airline, Capt. Daniel Wells, said Allegiant’s maintenance department tries to talk pilots out of reporting problems with their aircraft, to avoid delays.

Allegiant’s Gust said in his statement that the story referred to incidents that are years old and before the latest comprehensive audit by FAA.

John Duncan, executive director of FAA’s flight standards service, told 60 Minutes that the agency takes each incident seriously and reviews them for the root cause, which must be corrected.

“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,” Duncan said.

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