WASHINGTON – The top Democrat on the Senate panel that oversees the airlines is calling for an investigation into the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) handling of safety-related incidents involving low-cost carrier Allegiant Air.
The request comes on the heels of a scathing report aired last night on CBS’ 60 Minutes that raised questions about Allegiant’s safety record after finding the airline had more than 100 mechanical issues between January 2016 and October 2017.
In a letter sent today to the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said the FAA’s potential lack of oversight warrants scrutiny.
“The traveling public deserves to know whether the FAA is conducting thorough safety oversight of Allegiant,” Nelson wrote. “Anything less could lead to disastrous consequences.”
60 Minutes’ examination is not the first time Allegiant’s maintenance issues have come under fire.
The Tampa Bay Times initiated its own investigation in 2015 and found that the airline had to make 77 unexpected landings that year due to “serious mechanical failures.” The Times also reported that Allegiant was “four times as likely to make unexpected landings after midair mechanical problems than other U.S. airlines.”
In September 2016, The Washington Post reported that Allegiant had a “relatively large number of aborted takeoffs, emergency descents and emergency landings” from January 2015 through March 2016.
In response to these earlier incidents, Nelson included language in the Senate’s version of the FAA bill last year that would require the agency to report to Congress annually on all commercial airline safety incidents and the steps taken to address them The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation next month.
The text of Nelson’s letter to DOT Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III is below. Click here for a pdf of the letter.
April 16, 2018
The Honorable Calvin L. Scovel, III
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Dear Mr. Scovel:
This past Sunday, CBS’ 60 Minutes program aired a report that raised serious questions about the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight of Allegiant Air.
60 Minutes reported that Allegiant experienced over 100 serious mechanical incidents between January 2016 and October 2017. The report suggested that Allegiant’s business model, older aircraft and poor safety culture have led to this high number of incidents. When combined with a 2015 change in FAA enforcement policy, the implication was that Allegiant has not been subject to proper scrutiny or penalty.
Unfortunately, this is not the first report of serious safety concerns with Allegiant’s operations.
In 2016, the Tampa Bay Times and Washington Post separately reported on aborted take offs and unexpected landings due to mechanical failures on Allegiant’s aging aircraft.
In response, I included language in the Senate FAA bill last year that would require the agency to report to Congress annually on all commercial airline safety incidents and the steps taken to address them. The Senate is expected to vote on that measure next month.
The traveling public deserves to know whether the FAA is conducting thorough safety oversight of Allegiant. Anything less could lead to disastrous consequences.
Therefore, I request you conduct a full audit or investigation into the FAA’s current policies regarding enforcement actions, its role in working with airlines to correct noncompliance issues and how the agency identifies larger trends that may be the result of specific incidents. I urge you to specifically review all 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.
Given the critical implications your findings may have with regard to aviation safety, I urge you to expedite this review. I appreciate your prompt attention to this request.