Safety questions hound Allegiant Air

Posted at 11:28 AM, Sep 02, 2015
and last updated 2018-04-16 10:01:22-04
Emergency landings. Aborted take-offs. Grounded flights. Those are just a few of the problems plaguing Allegiant Air.
Allegiant offers thousands of travelers an affordable way to get to Florida, Las Vegas, and other vacation destinations.
But the Las Vegas-based "no frills" airline is under federal investigation over ongoing safety and maintenance issues.
Our Scripps sister station in Las Vegas, KTNV-TV, decided to dig deeper into concerns that Allegiant is putting profit over passengers.
Aborted Takeoff
 Everything's a gamble in Las Vegas. But your safety in the air should not be.
"What happened to us that day was not right," said Jennifer Lilore, mother of 9-year-old Samantha and 6-year-old Sydney.
The trio briefly occupied 12D, 12 E and 12 F. Seats they sat in excitedly the morning of Aug. 6, on their way to Monterey Bay to visit family.
"And these are my pajamas that I was gonna take," Samantha showed Darcy Spears.
But instead of unpacking in California, Samantha was putting her clothes back at home in Las Vegas.
"I felt like we were almost taking off -- that moment right before -- and it was like a jarring, and it was a loud bang!" said Jennifer.
"Like we went in a car crash, because my head like did this," Samantha added, throwing her head forward then back.
The Lilores' 9 a.m. flight turned back to the gate due to a mechanical issue.
When it couldn't be fixed, they waited eight hours to board another Allegiant plane.
"We boarded.  Buckled up. Put our bags up. Bins were closed," Jennifer explained. "5:30 p.m. came and they said we are just gonna wait for paperwork. And so we waited and 5:45 came and then 6 came.  And I had that sinking feeling again."
Turned out there were mechanical issues with that plane too.
Allegiant offered them a third set of wings later that night, but Samantha drew the line after two planes on the same day had failed.
"You say try, try again. The third time's a charm. Do not do that on a plane!"
Jennifer works in the Streets and Highways Division of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. She knows proper maintenance is everything.
"If the planes aren't doing well, your customers aren't going to do well." 
Checking The Safety Record
Allegiant consistently claims its safety record is among the best in the industry. 
Allegiant refused every request Scripps' KTNV  made for an on-camera interview. However, the station continued to look into the records.
Airlines have to file Service Difficulty Reports when something goes wrong.
But if it's not major and during flight, the Federal Aviation Administration lets the airline decide whether the malfunction was dangerous enough to report.
We examined Allegiant's record and found they've reported something as simple as replacing a battery on an emergency flashlight. 
But there was no report filed for the Lilore family's aborted takeoff.
Industry insiders tell Contact 13 the engine on the Lilores' first flight overheated. And that a hot engine is not a healthy engine.
As for two problems on two planes in one day?
"That's not uncommon at Allegiant.  We've seen it happen time and again where what they call the rescue airplane has maintenance issues as well," said Chris Moore, chairman of the Aviation Mechanics Coalition.
Unions representing both pilots and mechanics say old planes and scrimping on maintenance make flying Allegiant like playing roulette.
"If you continue to run an airline and not put money into maintenance, eventually you're gonna get into a situation that you can't recover from," said Moore.
Allegiant planes made three emergency landings in a two-week period from the end of July to the beginning of August . Two due to engine issues and one ran low on fuel.
On Aug. 3, a flight from Las Vegas to Missoula, Montana, was diverted back to McCarran after pilots had to shut down a heavily vibrating engine.
On Aug. 6, the Lilores' flights to Monterey never got off the ground due to "maintenance issues."
On Aug. 24, a Las Vegas-bound plane was speeding up for takeoff from Austin, Texas, when the crew had to abort at high speed, reporting an engine indicator. 
And just one week before that, on Aug. 17, a Las Vegas to Peoria, Illinois, flight failed after an out of control takeoff attempt . The plane's nose came up prematurely and pilots couldn't force it back down.
"And that's one of the issues that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up when I saw this issue.  Because it reminds me so much of pre-accident ValuJet and that makes me very, very nervous," said John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Goglia investigated the 1996 crash of ValuJet flight 592 in Florida, which killed 110 people.
"The older airplanes and issues with who does the maintenance and the qualification of maintenance is something that I was very much involved with with the ValuJet accident in the Everglades." 
In the wake of that deadly crash, ValuJet folded after being temporarily grounded by the FAA for serious operational deficiencies.
Maurice Gallagher Jr. was one of the ValuJet founders. He is now chairman and CEO of Allegiant Air.
"Well, that raises the issue even further, doesn't it?" Goglia asked, rhetorically.  "Do we have another ValuJet in the making?"
Allegiant's FAA Record
KTNV obtained a 2013 FAA report showing systemic safety and regulatory issues.
Allegiant was cited for "improper aircraft maintenance documentation, failing to properly track structural defects, and improper classification of major vs. minor repairs."
There were also unsafe takeoff procedures, and flight attendants and ramp workers who lacked knowledge about emergency equipment and procedures.
For the most part, all the FAA did was write letters to Allegiant to correct the deficiencies.
"Please, if the FAA watches this, please get involved," Goglia urged.  "Please do your job and get in at this airline."
Goglia says the FAA has only minimum standards, but he's seen time and again where an airline isn't even operating at the minimum and the FAA hasn't done anything about it.
The FAA has taken enforcement action against Allegiant five times since 2006 for a total of $233,500 in civil penalties. 
Issues ranged from maintenance to alleged violations of drug and alcohol testing regulations. 
But a quarter million in fines is a drop in bucket for Allegiant.  The airline reported a net income of $119 million in the first half of this year.
For travelers who can't afford a $400 ticket on Delta or other mainline carriers out of Cincinnati, it offers an affordable way to get to that vacation destination.