8 Things We Learned About Allegiant’s History Of Scary Midair Mechanical Failures

Image courtesy of Brian Brodeur

When you book a ticket on a discount airline, you might expect no-frills service in the cabin, but you don’t expect to be getting on a plane that’s any less safe than the more expensive competition. Yet after complaints from pilots and increased scrutiny from the FAA, the Tampa Bay Times crunched a lot of data and figured out that yes, Allegiant’s planes fail more than the U.S. average.

We recommend that you go over and read the entire investigation, which is thorough and a little scary, but has a happy ending. Sort of. As a preview, here are a few things that we learned from the story:

1. Allegiant is a budget carrier, and part of how it kept its startup costs low was by acquiring its planes used. It purchased a lot of McDonnell Douglas MD-80s when it started, since used planes are cheap but still airworthy, if you take care of them.

2. Most other U.S. carriers have phased out the MD-80, but American Airlines and Delta still use them. The Times analysis showed that Allegiant’s planes have mechanical failures two and three times as often as their respective competitors’.

3. The average age of a plane in Allegiant’s fleet is 22 years. Aviation experts told the Times that older planes need careful maintenance: imagine that you’re the owner of a very large and very complex 22-year-old car. It works fine, but you need to keep an eye on small problems and maintain it meticulously.

4. Allegiant has a fleet of 86 planes, and 42 of them had some kind of mid-air breakdown at least once in 2015. Other carriers’ planes break down, sure: it’s inevitable. It doesn’t happen to almost half of the fleet, though.

5. Executives have downplayed safety concerns from media and government for years, but the results of the Times investigation made them change tactics. “I can’t sit here and say that you’re wrong,” CEO Maurice Gallagher Jr. told the reporters.

6. The airline is promising to do better, and has had significantly fewer mechanical failures in 2016 than in 2015.

7. Another step that the airline is taking toward improvement: starting to replace its fleet with shiny new jets from Airbus. However, it won’t have phased out the MD-80s until three years from now.

8. The Times interviewed a former flight attendant who was flying from St. Petersburg to Omaha when the plane had to make an emergency landing in Birmingham, AL because of a problem with the air circulation fan. That same jet had at least four serious mechanical failures in the 15 months before that emergency landing. Yep, it was an MD-80.

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Breakdown At 30,000 Feet [Tampa Bay Times]

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