Allegiant Air is defending itself Monday after a CBS News 60 Minutes report called the airline one of the most dangerous carriers in the U.S.
According to the report, documents show “an alarming number” of serious mechanical incidents including mid-air engine failures, smoke in the cabin, rapid descents and unscheduled landings. Between Jan. 2016 and Oct. 2017, there were 60 unscheduled landings and 46 in-flight emergencies including an explosive engine incident last July.
“The force of it was so hard that it- it popped open the cockpit doors,” Mercedes Weller told 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft. “And there was smoke in the cabin and fire coming out of that engine. And I just remember thinking that I would never see my daughter again.”
60 Minutes also spoke to a pilot who claimed that he was fired for an “evacuation that was entirely unwarranted” in a separate incident after flight attendants reported smoke in the cabin.
“I’ve never ever heard of an airline firing a pilot for an emergency evacuation,” Loretta Alkalay, a 30 year veteran of the FAA who prosecuted enforcement cases, said.
In a separate incident in September 2017, one passenger of Allegiant Flight 514 said the plane's cabin began to fill with smoke shortly after landing in Fresno, California.
"I'll never forget this, the most absurd thing I've ever heard in my life. Captain comes on and says, 'Ladies and gentlemen, we've been informed there's -- there's smoke in the cabin. Please start breathing through your shirts," the passenger only identified as Scott told 60 Minutes.
Scott added that the oxygen masks in the cabin did not deploy and at least 12 minutes passed before passengers were moved off the plane.
60 Minutes reports that passengers were not told what they were breathing, but the airline confirmed that the fumes were Skydrol 4, a hazardous hydraulic fluid. In a statement the day of the incident, Allegiant described the incident as "a mechanical issue" that caused "a visible haze to appear."
The airline issued a statement from Allegiant Vice President of Operations Eric Gunst stating:
"It is unfortunate and disappointing that CBS 60 Minutes has chosen to air a false narrative about Allegiant and the FAA. Not only do we expect our team members to adhere to all company procedures and policies—including safety procedures—but many positions are subject to statutory and regulatory obligations. The violation of those obligations would trigger not only punitive action from Allegiant, but could also result in enforcement action from regulatory agencies, loss of a certification, and even criminal charges. To suggest that Allegiant would engage in the practice of asking team members to violate company and regulatory obligations is offensive and defamatory.
"CBS produced a one-sided narrative by cherry-picking interviews and ignoring publicly-available facts. For example, the show's star interviewee, John Goglia, is not an un-biased commentator; he is a paid expert working for a former Allegiant pilot who has sued Allegiant. That pilot, Jason Kinzer, claims that he was wrongfully terminated after an evacuation. In fact, Kinzer was terminated because he unnecessarily evacuated a plane "at great risk to the crew and passengers" even though there "was no smoke, fire, or an aircraft malfunction," and, during a post-flight investigation, he refused to "acknowledge his mistakes" or "demonstrate that he was capable of learning and growing from the event going forward." (See Defendants' Revised Motion for Summary Judgment, Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County, NV, Case No. A-15-727524-C.) Surprisingly, the 60 Minutes presentation of Mr. Kinzer's case omits this publicly-available side of the story.
"The FAA exercises rigorous oversight of Allegiant, as they do all airlines operating in the United States. Allegiant complies with all FAA requirements and participates in numerous voluntary safety programs to ensure we operate to the highest standards. Additionally, we expect our team members to follow all company policies and practice strict adherence to FAA regulations and guidelines. Several anonymous, non-disciplinary reporting systems are available through Allegiant as well as through the FAA for team members to report safety concerns. Notably, none of the concerns allegedly expressed by Allegiant team members during the 60 Minutes episode were found to have been reported through any of these appropriate channels.
"Allegiant's team members safely operate thousands of flights each week, which will transport more than 14 million passengers this year. We have safely carried nearly 90 million passengers since beginning operations in 2001. Our workforce is made up of more than 4,000 dedicated and hard-working people who wake up every day thinking about how to move our customers safely from one place to another.
"Captain Eric Gust is Allegiant's vice president of operations, responsible for the airline's flight operations, safety and security teams. In this role he oversees all system pilots and pilot training operations, regulatory compliance and flight standards, and the safety and security of all operations, team members and passengers."