I came across an excellent article in the Washington Post related to the questionable safety record of Allegiant Air’s fairly old fleet and the general business practices of the airline.

From my calculations, Allegiant has 53 active airplanes that are 20+ years old, with all but five of those being MD-83s. Shockingly, they also have six MD-83s that are 30+ years old.

If you’re unfamiliar, Allegiant is a low-cost carrier based in Las Vegas that operates flights to a few large hubs, but mostly to smaller airports. The company’s CEO is Maurice J. Gallagher Jr., formerly the CEO of ValuJet. If that airline rings a bell it might be because of the fatal crash of one of its DC-9 airplanes into the Florida Everglades in 1996, killing all 110 on board. Not to draw a parallel, but ValuJet was also well known for its poor safety record.

Gallagher’s strategy is/was to purchase old airplanes at a fraction of their sticker price. This, however, has led to some interesting (and scary) developments:

Allegiant aircraft this year made unscheduled landings on Feb. 28; on March 2, 3 and 14; and twice on March 13, according to FAA documents.

On March 5, a crew aborted a takeoff after a loud bang, warning signs from the right engine and smoke in the cabin. One flight attendant was treated by emergency medical technicians for smoke inhalation.

According to the data obtained by the Post via a FOIA request, Allegiant’s 50 McDonnell Douglas airplanes from the start of 2015 through March 2016 averaged ~1 operational incident per aircraft. The FAA defines operational incidents as “emergency descents”, “unscheduled landings”, and “aborted takeoffs”.

And now for the most shocking:

In less than a year, a single Allegiant MD-88 had almost as many incidents as the entire Delta fleet of MD-88s, FAA records show. In August 2015, that plane took off from Memphis and was at 16,000 feet, climbing to cruising altitude, when one of its two engines shut down. The crew declared an emergency and landed the plane.

In November, the same plane made an unscheduled landing after flight attendants said the air in the cabin had grown hazy and they smelled something burning.

Three weeks later, the plane’s pilot made another unscheduled landing after a gray haze filled the cabin.

During a flight 12 days after that, the plane had reached cruising altitude when the cockpit crew noticed the “odor of evaporating oil,” which led to the replacement of the left engine before the plane was flown again.

Sketchy Business Practice

I’m unsure of the laws surrounding this, but Allegiant CEO Maurice Gallagher owns 20% of the airline and the stock price of the airline directly impacts his compensation.

Typically, CEOs are evaluated on their ability to grow the stock of their company, no doubt about that. What I can’t seem to understand is why on earth it would be OK for a CEO’s compensation to be based on the stock price of a company that is responsible for the safety of human life.

Here is the Allegiant maintenance spending compared to stock price history. I’ll let you be the judge:

Bottom Line

I know it sounds like I’m waaaay against Allegiant in this post and to some degree I am. I just can’t fathom how some airlines think aircraft maintenance isn’t of utmost importance. This is not to say it isn’t important them, it’s just that it doesn’t seem like it.

I’m sure Allegiant would never want to put passengers or crew in harms way so let me put that out there. Additionally, to play devil’s advocate, the airline said their fluctuations in maintenance costs were “largely driven by scheduled maintenance events” such as a major engine overhaul in 2011.

Okay, fine. But how do you explain those dreadful statistics when compared to Delta? One MD-88 had almost as many incidents as Delta’s entire MD-88 fleet?! I truly do hope Allegiant can lessen the number of incidents moving forward as they do provide a valuable service.

Yeesh, someone pass me a beer.