Tonight at 7 p.m., 60 Minutes ran a seven-month investigation into Allegiant Air’s safety record — a topic we’ve covered extensively in recent years. The investigation cited our reporting and examined Allegiant’s history of aborted takeoffs and in-air trouble.
News of the upcoming report sent stock of the carrier’s parent, Allegiant Travel Co., down nearly 8 percent on Friday.
Allegiant accounts for the overwhelming majority of traffic at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.
Here are the highlights.
Allegiant is still an outlier.
In 2015, the Times performed a first-of-its-kind analysis of an obscure Federal Aviation Administration document called a “mechanical interruption summary report” to show that Allegiant’s planes were four times as likely to make unexpected landings after midair mechanical problems than other U.S. airlines in 2015.
For its report, 60 Minutes requested more recent versions of those documents and performed its own analysis. It found that airline was 3.5 times more likely to have midair breakdowns than other major carriers.
60 Minutes also highlighted more than 100 serious mechanical incidents that the airline had from January 2016 to October 2017.
The FAA: “All those incidents have been addressed.”
The 60 Minutes report highlighted how the Federal Aviation Administration continues to more or less allow Allegiant to police itself. Although the airline has had hundreds of plane maintenance issues since a scathing internal 2015 FAA report, the government agency has yet to impose any serious penalty on Allegiant.
Allegiant’s decision to replace older planes may be making a difference.
The Times reported in 2017 that Allegiant would replace its aging fleet of MD-80 aircrafts at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater international airport. Sunday’s 60 Minutes report noted that its analysis showed that Allegiant’s incident rate trended down as it got rid of those planes — which require a great deal of maintenance.
Allegiant called 60 Minutes’ reporting “unoriginal and outdated.”
“This unoriginal and outdated story bears no resemblance to Allegiant’s operations today, and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of FAA compliance practice and history,” Eric Gust, Allegiant’s Vice President of Operations, wrote in a statement released shortly after the program aired. “It focused primarily on events of several years past, prior to the FAA’s most recent comprehensive audit of Allegiant Air, which revealed no systemic or regulatory deficiencies.”
The full statement is at the bottom of this story.
Read our investigative reporting on Allegiant.
• The FAA could have cracked down on Allegiant Air. It didn’t. [Dec. 16, 2016]
• At Allegiant, a board and business model with roots in ValuJet [Dec. 21, 2016]
Here’s everything 60 Minutes reported.
Kroft notes that many of Allegiant's aircrafts are MD-80s, which, as we noted in 2016, are solid aircrafts — but they are often older and require frequent maintenance— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
Kroft interviews an air safety expert about its dozens of incidents, who says Allegiant should "clean up its operation." The official said he wouldn't fly on Allegiant.— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
The air safety official says Allegiant doesn't have enough maintenance workers to service its many older MD-80 planes. (Allegiant is phasing its planes out of the St. Pete-Clearwater airport, as we wrote about here https://t.co/nOuQYwjO8a)— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
60 Minutes interviews one passenger who was forced to go through an emergency Allegiant landing. She tears up recounting the experience in Cincinnati from last July. It was one of 9 Allegiant planes that had to make unscheduled landings that month, per CBS.— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
Daniel Wells, a longtime pilot and member of the teamsters union, tells Kroft that Allegiant's high number of plane failures is "outside the norm." "The management of Allegiant seems to denigrate the pursuit of safety," he says.— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
Wells says Allegiant pilots would speak up about their safety concerns, but they fear retribution from the company.— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
60 Minutes now discussing the 2015 firing of an Allegiant pilot who made an emergency landing in St. Petersburg. Wells says the pilot did the right thing in landing the plane; Allegiant called it "entirely unwarranted" at the time.— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
Kroft now interviewing an FAA official. They haven't investigated the termination of that pilot, Cpt. Jason Kinzer, because they were not asked to do so, the official said. (We covered the FAA's inaction on Allegiant in 2016 https://t.co/O0gWVtqnSd )— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
CBS says Allegiant's planes are 3.5 times more likely to experience mechanical failures than other airlines, according to an analysis they performed. The @TB_Times found that the number was similar when we performed our analysis in 2016. https://t.co/4Gmity66lD— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
Kroft now interviewing the FAA official, John S. Duncan, Director of Flight Standards, about whether Allegiant has fixed its problems. I'm paraphrasing, but Duncan more or less says the company is moving in the right direction.— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
According to an FAA investigation, one Allegiant incident was the result of a "deliberate" and "systemic" act of noncompliance on the part of Allegiant. The FAA did not perform an enforcement action on Allegiant.— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
The Times first published this FAA investigation in May, after the FAA accidentally sent it to us in a records request. Click here to read the story.
Duncan says "our charge in these kinds of events is that they don't happen again." Kroft points out that hundreds of incidents have occurred since the 2015 one that prompted the scathing FAA report.— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
.@60Minutes says it aimed to pick up where the Times' 2016 investigation left off. In a similar exercise to the one our reporters performed in 2016, 60 Minutes journalists requested incident reports from major airlines to see which ones were most likely to have maintenance issues— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
60 Minutes' reporting led Wells, the union man, to believe that Allegiant pilots are being discouraged from reporting maintenance issues. Duncan says the FAA will "continue" to look into Allegiant's practices.— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
Kroft notes that Allegiant's safety incidents have been less frequent since CBS notified the company it was pursuing the story. Says it might have something to do with the company phasing out its outdated MD-80s.— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
Former Allegiant passengers now recounting an incident from 2017 that caused smoke to fill the cabin. "There was nothing normal about the way we deplaned" that aircraft, one of the passenger says.— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
Kroft now noting the Allegiant CEO's ties to ValuJet, another budget airline with serious security issues. A ValuJet craft crashed in the Everglades in 1996 Florida, killing over 100 people https://t.co/nPacRoWa9T— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
The report ends with one Kroft interviewee noting that few in the airline industry fly Allegiant. That's it for the @60Minutes report! Thanks for reading.— Kirby Wilson (@KirbyWTweets) April 15, 2018
Read Allegiant’s full response.
Attribution to Captain Eric Gust, Vice President of Operations
“It is unfortunate and disappointing that CBS 60 Minutes has chosen to air a false narrative about Allegiant and the FAA. This unoriginal and outdated story bears no resemblance to Allegiant’s operations today, and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of FAA compliance practice and history. It focused primarily on events of several years past, prior to the FAA’s most recent comprehensive audit of Allegiant Air, which revealed no systemic or regulatory deficiencies.
“It has come to our attention that the story was instigated by a terminated employee, currently engaged in a lawsuit seeking monetary damages from the company. The story features cherry-picked interviews with people involved in the lawsuit, including featured comments from John Goglia, a paid plaintiff’s witness presented by CBS as an unbiased industry expert. This one-sided presentation falls far short of responsible journalistic standards expected from reputable outlets, including 60 Minutes.
“The FAA is recognized around the world as the gold standard with regard to transportation safety, and as a result the airline industry in the U.S. has never been safer.
“The FAA exercises rigorous oversight of Allegiant, as they do all airlines operating in the United States. Allegiant complies with all FAA requirements and participates in numerous voluntary safety programs to ensure we operate to the highest standards. Additionally, we expect our team members to follow all company policies and practice strict adherence to FAA regulations and guidelines. Several anonymous, non-disciplinary reporting systems are available through Allegiant as well as through the FAA for team members to report safety concerns. Interestingly, none of the concerns allegedly expressed by Allegiant team members during the 60 Minutes episode were found to have been reported through any of these appropriate channels.
“Allegiant’s workforce is made up of more than 4,000 dedicated and hard-working people who wake up every day thinking about how to move our customers safely from one place to another. Our team members safely operate thousands of flights each week, which will transport more than 14 million passengers this year. We have safely carried nearly 90 million passengers since beginning operations in 2001.
“If 60 Minutes had been interested in current information, they would have reported that today, according to just-released Department of Transportation data, Allegiant is a leader in reliability, with the second-lowest cancelation rate among all US airlines.
“Not only do we expect our team members to adhere to all company procedures and policies, but many positions are subject to statutory and regulatory obligations, the violation of which would not only trigger punitive action from the company, but could also result in enforcement action from regulatory agencies, loss of a certification, and even criminal charges. To suggest that Allegiant would engage in the practice of asking team members to violate company and regulatory obligations is offensive and defamatory.”