Pilots who work for Allegiant Air, a low-cost airline that flies out of small cities — including South Burlington — are raising questions about the safety of their employer’s planes.
A New York Times story published Monday reports, “Allegiant pilots said they had identified at least 65 incidents from September to March where flights were forced to divert to another airport, return to the gate, or abort their takeoff because of a mechanical or an engine problem.”
Since February 2014, Allegiant Air has flown twice a week from Burlington International Airport to Orlando, using an MD-80 aircraft that seats 166 passengers. The airline, which has the second-highest profit margin in the industry, keeps costs to a minimum by purchasing older planes and subcontracting maintenance work.
The allegations, the Times notes, come amid growing tension between unionized pilots and the airline’s owner: “It is not unusual for pilots to bring up safety and maintenance issues in the middle of labor talks," the story says. "To the airline, the complaints represent scare tactics by the pilots union, driven by demands over benefits and work rules.” The two sides are embroiled in a labor dispute playing out in federal court.
The pilots union compiled a report detailing the 65 incidents, summarized by the Times.
At least four times, engines shut down in flight, the pilots said. The list of problems also includes planes that lost their communications equipment, hydraulic leaks, engines that failed to deliver sufficient power, inoperative cockpit panel lights, and pressurization problems.
One airplane had repeated problems, including the loss of cockpit automation, before it was taken out of service for repairs.
Allegiant has dismissed the allegations as “absurd,” according to the Times. But John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board, told the paper that pilots' complaints warrant a Federal Aviation Administration investigation. “For a small fleet, that’s an awful lot of problems,” Goglia said.
This isn’t the first time safety concerns about Allegiant planes have been raised. According to the Times, an FAA inspection uncovered issues with its maintenance and training programs in 2013.