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
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