Metro-East News

Allegiant planes break down in midair more often than other airlines, investigation finds

An Allegiant Airbus jet lands safely at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport recently after the pilot reported problems. Emergency vehicles wait nearby next to the north south runway.
An Allegiant Airbus jet lands safely at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport recently after the pilot reported problems. Emergency vehicles wait nearby next to the north south runway. TAMPA BAY TIMES

Allegiant Air’s aircraft are four times as likely to fail during flight as those operated by other U.S. airlines, an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times has found.

In 2015, Allegiant jets were forced to make unexpected landings at least 77 times for serious mechanical failures, the Times’ first-of-its kind analysis of federal aviation records shows.

None prompted enforcement action from the Federal Aviation Administration.

To create such a comparison, Times reporters built a database of more than 65,000 records from the FAA.

Working through the data, they connected a year’s worth of flight records with documents showing mechanical problems at the 11 largest domestic carriers in the United States, including Allegiant.

The airline did not dispute the newspaper’s findings, which included:

• Nearly half, or 42 of Allegiant’s 86 planes, broke down in mid-flight at least once in 2015. Among them were 15 forced to land by failing engines, nine by overheating tail compartments and six by smoke or the smell of something burning.

I can’t sit here and say that you’re wrong. We’re very much focused on running a better operation.

Allegiant CEO Maurice Gallagher Jr.

• After certain systems on Allegiant planes fail, the company repairs them and puts the planes back in service, only to see the same systems fail again. Eighteen times last year, key parts such as engines, sensors and electronics, failed once in flight, got checked out, and then failed again, causing another unexpected landing.

• Allegiant’s jets are, on average, 22 years old. The average age of planes flown by other carriers is 12. Experts say planes as old as Allegiant’s require the most rigorous maintenance in the industry. But Allegiant doesn’t staff its own mechanics at 107 of the 118 airports it flies to or out of, including MidAmerica Airport in St. Clair County.

• Allegiant relies most heavily on McDonnell Douglas MD-80s, an aging model retired by all but two other major U.S. carriers. The company’s MD-80s fail twice as often as those operated by American Airlines and three times as often as those flown by Delta.

Presented with the Times’ findings last week during an interview at Allegiant’s Las Vegas headquarters, the carrier’s CEO, Maurice Gallagher Jr., said, “I can’t sit here and say that you’re wrong. We’re very much focused on running a better operation.”

To read the full story, go to tampabay.com/allegiant

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