Safety concerns cause FAA to monitor Allegiant Airlines

MidAmerica Airport Director Tim Cantwell (far Left) and St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern look on as Lee Warren, Director of Planning for Allegiant, reveals Destin, Florida as the airline’s newest destination to be served with direct flights from MidAmerica on January 12, 2016. (Submitted Photo)

MidAmerica Airport Director Tim Cantwell (far Left) and St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern look on as Lee Warren, Director of Planning for Allegiant, reveals Destin, Florida as the airline’s newest destination to be served with direct flights from MidAmerica on January 12, 2016. (Submitted Photo)

Allegiant Airlines, the only commercial airline currently operating at MidAmerica Airport, has drawn they eye of the Federal Aviation Administration following a series of safety concerns.

Allegiant, which offers low-cost flights to smaller airports located near popular destination cities, flew more than 300 routes last year using previously used airplanes purchased at a discount. The airline has announced a number of new routes this year, including some from MidAmerica Airport.  The carrier has around 80 planes that fly to nearly 115 airports.

FAA records reveal a variety of safety issues that have arisen, resulting in aborted takeoffs and emergency landings. A media analysis found that Allegiant had nine times as many serious incidents as Delta Air Lines had with planes of comparable age, even though Delta had nearly three times as many planes in service.

The company, while not acknowledging it has an issue with aging aircraft, did place an order this summer for 12 new Airbus A320’s which will be delivered to them by 2018.

The chief executive of Allegiant Airlines is no stranger to running controversial low-cost carriers. Maurice Gallagher Jr. ran ValuJet until one of its planes crashed into the Florida Everglades killing all 110 people on board in 1996. Gallagher created Allegiant Air three years later when ValuJet was absorbed by AirTran.

This year, Allegiant has made numerous unscheduled landings this year alone. One jet, tail number 228NV, made two emergency landings in 24 hours. The first took place as the plane, originating in Moline, Illinois, landed at St. Pete Clearwater-International Airport. A leak in the hydraulic line caused the emergency landing. The next day, the same plane departed from Pinellas, Florida, bound for an airport in New Windsor, New York. Shortly after takeoff, the plan containing 165 passengers and six crew members, reported a drop in hydraulic fluid, circled over the Gulf of Mexico, and returned to the airport.

The FAA moved up Allegiant’s required evaluation of safety and maintenance reports following the numerous incidents. The evaluation was initially supposed to take place in 2018. The evaluation is designed to make sure the carrier is meeting all necessary safety guidelines and complying with regulations.

Problems are nothing new to Allegiant though, as the summer of 2015 is noted as a particularly dark time in the company’s history. Three flights made emergency landings at St. Pete-Clearwater in June and July. In late July, a pilot flying from Las Vegas to Fargo had to make an emergency landing because the plane was extremely low on fuel. When asked by the tower to circle and wait, audio reveals the pilot saying he doesn’t have enough fuel to circle and had to land immediately. The FAA did cite the airline for not carrying enough of a reserve of fuel. Then in August last year, an aircraft taking off in Las Vegas experienced a jammed elevator, which is a vital control surface on the tail. The jam occurred seconds before take off and had pilots not been able to quickly abort, mechanics quoted in the media said the aircraft would have likely crashed.

As it stands the FAA is closely watching the airline and monitoring its safety protocols.