Can New Planes Really Make Allegiant Safer?
Photo by Paul Thompson
Nevada-based Allegiant Airlines has been under federal scrutiny since this spring, after numerous mechanical problems with aircraft, both on the ground and in the air. But last week, for the first time in its 18-year history, Allegiant is buying brand new airplanes. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll become a safer airline.
What makes an airline safe? To the average passenger, it probably means “as long as we get there without crashing, that’s all that matters.” Allegiant has never had a fatal accident in its history, and 18 years is a pretty good track record. This might lead many people to think of them as a “safe” airline. But for myself, with 15 years in the airline industry, there are so many more factors than whether a plane takes off and lands without killing anyone.
Safety starts at the top of the operational chain. Are the airline higher-ups playing by the rules, making sure each aircraft is maintained properly, and on time as mandated by each manufacturer and the FAA? Are pilots being told to bend the rules while flying the plane, in the name of efficiency? This is what some American Airlines pilots accuse their employer of asking them to do, just this week.
While the plane is in the ground, is it being given a full visual inspection for any dings, dents or signs of metal fatigue? What about the shape of the tires? We hear all too often about how a plane blew tires on takeoff of landing. This happened to an Allegiant plane this February, and a case like this should be preventable with inspection of the tires between flights.
As I wrote in January, one of Allegiant’s own aircraft mechanics left the airline because he didn’t want to be associated with what amounts to malpractice in the medical field. Greg Marino told the Tampa Bay Times that Allegiant routinely delayed maintenance inspections and repairs.
Even the International Brotherhood of Teamsters revealed 98 maintenance issues with Allegiant aircraft from September 2015 to January 2016, including four instances of smoke in the cabin, and three pressurization problems resulting in the deployment of oxygen masks. Allegiant doesn’t even fly 98 planes, making this an abnormally high incident rate.
Teamsters chairman and 30-year aircraft mechanic Chris Moore said, “The airline’s approach to maintenance is dangerous and not up to industry standards. An emergency landing virtually every week due to maintenance issues on a fleet this size isn’t normal.” Many of Allegiant’s pilots won’t even allow their own families to fly their airline.
But things may be looking up for Allegiant. After three years of negotiating, Teamsters and Allegiant pilots have ratified their first contract agreement with the airline, agreeing to a defined set of work rules and pay scale. The pilots had at one point voted to go on strike, but that was vetoed by a federal court. The contrast passed by 85 percent, so it’s clear that most pilots are satisfied with it. That, combined with the new Airbus aircraft on their way, will hopefully give Allegiant clear skies along their path to growth and success.
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