An investigation by a Florida newspaper has identified massive failure rates at Allegiant Air when it comes to for serious mechanical failures inflight and subsequent emergency landings.
Allegiant is a popular low cost airlines headquartered in Las Vegas and grew substantially over the years building a network around a fleet of rather old aircraft such as the MD-80 and MD83.
The investigative report by The Tampa Bay Times (see here) now revealed the massive scale of Allegiants failures.
All major airlines break down once in awhile. But none of them break down in midair more often than Allegiant.
A Tampa Bay Times investigation — which included a first-of-its kind analysis of federal aviation records — has found that the budget carrier’s planes are four times as likely to fail during flight as those operated by other major U.S. airlines. In 2015, Allegiant jets were forced to make unexpected landings at least 77 times for serious mechanical failures.
None of the 77 incidents prompted enforcement action from the Federal Aviation Administration, which doesn’t compare airline breakdown records to look for warning signs. To create such a comparison, Times reporters built a database of more than 65,000 records from the FAA.
Working through the data, they connected a year’s worth of flight records with documents showing mechanical problems at the 11 largest domestic carriers in the United States, including Allegiant. They interviewed 20 aviation experts, including former federal safety inspectors, aircraft engineers and mechanics.
It’s not uncommon for North American carriers to use aircraft that are really old and come with a mechanical failure rate that is obviously much higher than that of a young fleet. Especially the MD-80/MD-83 has been a popular aircraft in American Airlines, Delta Airlines and Alaska Airlines fleet with American phasing them out not too long ago.
The airline [Allegiant] did not dispute the newspaper’s findings, which included:
- 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.
- Allegiant’s jets are, on average, 22 years old. The average age of planes flown by other carriers is 12. Experts say planes as old as Allegiant’s require the most rigorous maintenance in the industry. But Allegiant doesn’t staff its own mechanics at 107 of the 118 airports it flies to.
- Allegiant relies most heavily on McDonnell Douglas MD-80s, an aging model retired by all but two other major U.S. carriers. The company’s MD-80s fail twice as often as those operated by American Airlines and three times as often as those flown by Delta.
Allegiant’s troubles have not gone unnoticed. A string of emergency landings in recent years prompted websites, TV stations and newspapers, including the Times, to ask questions about the company’s safety record. Time and again, top executives downplayed concerns and said the airline was no different than others.
Amid the increased scrutiny, the FAA in April launched a three-month review of Allegiant’s maintenance, training and operations programs. The agency found problems with Allegiant’s maintenance paperwork, including a failure to report a mid-flight engine shutdown within a required time frame. But the FAA said nothing it discovered was severe enough to require a fine or other serious enforcement action.
Due to being headquartered in Las Vegas Allegiant has established itself first and foremost as a low cost leisure airline that sells cheap tickets to vacationers but also cost savvy business travelers. That such savings also come at a certain cost (mostly in safety aspects) is an argument that is often overlooked.
I’m not a big fan of any low cost airline brand and flying in the U.S. even on regular legacy carriers is (without status) testing my patience. I’m simply not willing to chance it and buy tickets from airlines that have a shaky (at best) safety record. You can never completely eliminate all dangers when setting foot on an airplane but you can’t either when crossing the street.
I really don’t need to patronize a company that has a 400% higher mechanical failure rate than the competition. I like my life!