With its pilots’ union and a mechanics’ group questioning the adequacy of its aircraft maintenance program, Toledo’s most popular airline is getting some extra scrutiny from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Last year, Allegiant Air carried more than half the passengers at Toledo Express Airport. The airline is adding local flights to Myrtle Beach, S.C., next week. Allegiant had been due for its next federal certification review two years from now.
But the normal five-year interval has been shortened to three “to ensure that work the carrier is doing to address various internal issues has resulted in the desired improvements,” said Elizabeth Isham Cory, an FAA regional spokesman in Kansas City. “We expect to have the evaluation done by late June,” she added.
She declined to elaborate on what the “internal issues” are or say how often the FAA conducts such reviews early.
But John Goglia, a former National Transportation Safety Board member who now sits on the board of a Teamsters-affiliated mechanics’ advocacy and lobbying group, said the only time such a review started early was two decades ago, when an early review of ValuJet Airlines was begun.
That certification review was interrupted, Mr. Goglia noted, when a ValuJet plane crashed in the Florida Everglades while attempting to return to Miami International Airport after a fire broke out in its cargo hold.
The May 11, 1996, crash of ValuJet Flight 592 killed all 109 people on board. Investigators blamed the fire on an airline contractor’s improper packing of aircraft oxygen generators that accidentally triggered in the cargo hold, releasing heat that ignited their packaging.
The Aviation Mechanics’ Coalition, which reviewed reports of “air returns,” flight diversions, and and other incidents involving Allegiant flights starting in September, 2014, noted that Allegiant has more in common with ValuJet than merely its niche as an ultralow-cost carrier. It also has been run in recent years by some of the same executives.
The group said in several reports that Allegiant mechanics it interviewed reported insufficient training, inadequate maintenance documentation, spare-parts shortages, and persistent pressure to release airplanes for service despite problems.
“The FAA is finally doing what they need to do, which is putting this airline’s operations under a microscope,” said Chris Moore, the Aviation Mechanics Coalition’s chairman.
“Air returns, gate returns — no airline is immune to that sort of thing,” but Allegiant’s rate of such incidents is high for its size, Mr. Moore said. “The FAA found enough smoke to go look for the fire.”
Air returns are cases in which a pilot decides a flight must return to its originating airport because of a problem, while diversions involve unplanned landings somewhere other than a flight’s intended destination.
The dozens of service anomalies and flight disruptions Mr. Moore’s organization tabulated involved one Toledo-bound flight. On Nov. 9, 2015, a flight from Sanford, Fla., had to return to its originating gate twice because of problems with the plane’s flight director, its primary flight and navigation system.
Allegiant flies several round trips per week, with the number of flights varying seasonally, between Toledo and three Florida airports: Sanford, St. Petersburg-Clearwater, and Punta Gorda. Twice-weekly seasonal service between Toledo and Myrtle Beach is scheduled to start June 3.
Keith Mackey, proprietor of Ocala, Fla.-based Mackey International Aviation Safety Consultants, agreed that Allegiant had “a relatively high number of incidents, it seems, for their size,” and the unions’ public complaints forced the FAA to launch its review.
“They don’t want to come in after an accident,” Mr. Mackey said.
The FAA review, he said, will determine if Allegiant has a real problem or if the high number of write-ups is a product of labor strife.
“We really don’t know if they’re doing anything wrong or not,” Mr. Mackey said.
Mr. Goglia, who was an NTSB member when Flight 592 crashed, said that like ValuJet, Allegiant has grown faster than the FAA’s routine oversight appears to have kept up with.
“It looks like the FAA is managing Allegiant the same way it managed ValuJet, which is not very effectively,” he said.
Allegiant issued a statement describing the FAA review as a routine audit and predicting favorable results.
“Allegiant’s priority is to ensure the safety of each and every passenger that flies on our aircraft,” the airline said. “As such, we welcome the FAA’s review and feedback. We have every confidence in our operation, and commit to sharing a summary of the FAA’s review after it is concluded.”
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