Senator wants review after '60 Minutes' report on Allegiant

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Photo Credit: Marcus Mainka/Shutterstock

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the top Democrat on the Senate transportation committee, is calling for an inspector general's review of the FAA's safety enforcement, sparked by a "60 Minutes" investigation of Allegiant Air.

Nelson has asked Department of Transportation inspector general Calvin Scovel to specifically review internal communications between the FAA and Allegiant "to ensure that no efforts are being undertaken to impede a full and forthright investigation of the airline's maintenance and operational issues."

In a segment that aired Sunday on CBS, "60 Minutes" reported that Allegiant had more than 100 serious mechanical incidents between January 2016 and October 2017.

The incidents included "mid-air engine failures, smoke and fumes in the cabin, rapid descents, flight control malfunctions, hydraulic leaks and aborted takeoffs," the news program reported. "60 Minutes" said Allegiant is three-and-a-half times more likely to have serious mechanical problems than other U.S. airlines.

The report suggested that the problems are a result of the aging Boeing MD-80s that Allegiant plans to phase out by year's end, but which currently comprise approximately 30% of its fleet. It included charges from the head of the union representing Allegiant's pilots that the carrier discourages pilots from reporting maintenance problems. "60 Minutes" also cast its glare on the FAA, which it accused of weak safety oversight.

In responses to the report, both Allegiant and the FAA said that they put safety at the forefront.

"It is unfortunate and disappointing that CBS' '60 Minutes' has chosen to air a false narrative about Allegiant and the FAA," Allegiant vice president of operations Eric Gust said. "Not only do we expect our team members to adhere to all company procedures and policies -- including safety procedures -- but many positions are subject to statutory and regulatory obligations. The violation of those obligations would trigger not only punitive action from Allegiant, 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."

Allegiant, which has never had a crash, noted that it has carried 90 million passengers safely since beginning operations in 2001 and that it has less than a third as many MD-80s in its fleet as Delta.

In its statement, the FAA said that commercial aviation in the U.S. operates at an "unprecedented" level of safety. The agency said it did a comprehensive review of Allegiant in 2016, finding no systemic safety or regulatory problems. Since that time, the FAA said it has conducted ongoing evaluations of Allegiant's safety compliance, as it does with all airlines, and has not identified any significant problems.

"Had we identified such problems, the FAA would have taken immediate action," wrote Ali Bahrami, the agency's aviation safety associate administrator.

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