By Alyssa Bruce
Allegiant Airlines, one of the primary flight providers at the Bellingham International Airport, is facing scrutiny from customers, Congress and manufacturing professionals after years of consistent delays and safety concerns.
Over the last two years, the low-cost carrier has had more than 100 significant mechanical incidents, including hydraulic leaks, exposure to dangerous fumes in the cabin and mid-air engine failures, according to their safety records.
Peter Haug, a Western professor and the director of the manufacturing and supply chain management department, said this company produces profits and keeps ticket prices down by flying older, used aircrafts.
Haug said it can be reasonably affordable to remodel the interior of a plane, making the aircraft seem as good as new to the regular traveler.
“As long as you have a new interior, bright colors, new side panels, new seats, you think, ‘oh this is like a brand new plane,’ but it probably is not,” Haug said.
Allegiant planes have been over three times more likely to have serious in-flight mechanical failures than other companies, according to safety records filed with the Flight Aviation Administration.
These planes on average are 22.9 years old, meaning they use the fourth-oldest planes of any commercial fleet internationally, according to flight crash documents.
Haug said he was surprised the FAA has seen these statistics and not done a further investigation into how Allegiant is operating their maintenance to inspire any sort of change. The FAA did investigate Allegiant in 2016, but their investigation ended with no major enforcement actions, according to Mike Hogan, the administrator of public affairs for the Port of Bellingham.
“Allegiant has been servicing Bellingham International Airport for nearly 14 years with no major safety events at the airport,” Hogan said. He also said Bellingham is ranked first for on-time performance with Allegiant Airlines.
Yet customers remain unhappy with Allegiant Airlines. Senior Kailee Hickey said she will never fly Allegiant again after a bad experience in 2013.
“We went through four planes,” Hickey said. “We were delayed, I believe, five hours. They kept saying we were having mechanical issues and then they did not have the flight crew. It was nuts. Who does that?”
Hickey said her family was not given any compensation for their inconvenience.
“I really hope they have changed over time because it really scared my family,” Hickey said.
Statistics show that the company has not improved their operations since Hickey’s experience.
Within a 48-hour period in July, 11 aircrafts leaving Las Vegas faced delays or cancellations, according to flight records.
“Allegiant’s planes are older. They are going to take more work,” Haug said. “What is the qualifications of the mechanics? Are they really that well-trained to be able to predict when a particular component might need to be replaced, or do they have to always wait until it fails?”
In 1996 a commercial plane with a company by the name of ValueJet crashed into the Everglades after a maintenance contractor mishandled oxygen generators, leading to an ignition in the cargo area. The crash killed all 110 passengers and crew members, according to CBS.
CBS’s program “60 Minutes” revealed that Maurice J. Gallagher, the same man who once owned ValuJet before its devastation, now owns and operates Allegiant Airlines.
Along with mechanical and maintenance problems, Allegiant is facing judgment for their recent decision to fire pilot Jason Kinzer.
Kinzer was told to hold off on an emergency evacuation of his aircraft but deployed emergency shoots and continued evacuation anyways as he followed safety protocol upon seeing smoke in his engine. He was fired six weeks later for his actions, according to CBS.
A “60 Minutes” segment brought in John Goglia to get his opinion on these incidents. Goglia served as presidential appointee on the National Transportation Safety Board for nine years.
“I hate to make comparisons, but we’ve seen that before in airlines that are no longer with us that had experienced a number of accidents and killed a bunch of people,” Goglia said. “I don’t want to repeat that, so I try to push on Allegiant to clean up their operation.”
Haug looked at statistics, customer complaints and maintenance records in complete awe.
“I was surprised they have not had a fatal accident,” Haug said.
Senator Bill Nelson of Florida is demanding the Department of Transportation conduct an audit of the FAA’s enforcement practices following frustration in the Allegiant Airlines case.
Meanwhile, Congressmen Rick Larsen, Peter Defazio and Luis Gutierrez have requested an explanation of what the department is going to do to be sure these encounters do not continue, according to NBC.
There have been no fatal cases or crashes in Allegiant Airlines planes. Last year Allegiant Airlines flew 12 million passengers on 99 different planes to 120 destinations, according to their records.