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Avoidable Maintenance, Operational Issues Persist At Allegiant Air

Allegiant Air continued to experience a high rate of emergency landings, cancelations, and delays due to preventable mechanical issues from September 2015 to January 2016, according to an investigation released today by The Aviation Mechanics Coalition (TAMC).

The TAMC documented 98 instances of preventable maintenance issues in the five month period, including 35 related to engine function such as failures to start and clogged filters. Known in the aviation industry as “catastrophic engine failure,” there were two reported instances—one in December 2015 and one in January 2016—of engines coming apart.

There were four instances of smoke in the cabin. The report also found three instances of pressurization problems, meaning that the cabin did not maintain the pressurization level required to ensure safe breathing. When there are pressurization issues, planes have to rapidly drop to an altitude where regular breathing can occur, often resulting in oxygen masks dropping and passenger sickness.

Of the flights documented in the TAMC report, passengers experienced diversions on 12.2 percent of flights and air returns on 16.3 percent of flights.

“This report is just a snapshot of the problems the company is facing,” said report author Chris Moore, chairman of the TAMC and a mechanic with 30 years of airline experience. “The airline’s approach to maintenance is dangerous and not up to industry standards. An emergency landing virtually every week due to maintenance issues on a fleet this size isn’t normal. As one of the most profitable airlines, Allegiant should put its money back into its aircraft and stop cutting corners. Investing in maintenance and operations would mean better service to its customers and a better, safer work environment for the pilots and crew who keep Allegiant flying.”

The TAMC has been investigating maintenance issues at the airline since 2014. This investigation is an update to two previous TAMC reports that uncovered widespread maintenance problems at the airline. The first report documented issues from September of 2014 to March of 2015, and the second documented issues in the summer of 2015. 

In the investigation of Allegiant Air released Monday, the TAMC found several new issues:

·         Little or no shift documentation during turnover: It is critical that maintenance crews carefully document their work so that after a shift change, the mechanics assigned to the next shift know where to pick up. When there is little or no shift turnover, mechanics do not have the information necessary for a successful transition. 

·         Improper use of minimum equipment list (MEL) and dispatch procedures. A fleet is able to operate with certain functions that do not work so long as maintenance follows a certain procedure, known as MEL and dispatch procedures. But at Allegiant Air, the TAMC found maintenance teams were not consistently or accurately following MEL and dispatch procedures.

·         Sub-standard maintenance expertise. Many maintenance crews lack adequate experience to properly repair and dispatch aircraft. Allegiant Air flies into secondary and tertiary airports, where the company relies on contracted maintenance crews. Many of these crews do not have the necessary experience working on MD-80s, the bulk of Allegiant’s fleet.

The TAMC has compiled this information based on ad-hoc reports from Allegiant Air pilots. Because of this, the report is not comprehensive, and there is a high likelihood that many other similar incidents go undocumented.

In its initial investigation of Allegiant Air, the TAMC discovered several maintenance issues; the coalition has not seen any reports that these issues have been addressed. These include:

·         Training for maintenance crews is inadequate.

·         There is a lack of process to document equipment failures. Specifically, mechanics at Allegiant Air do not have the equipment needed to pull up the maintenance manual and are left having to work with manual references faxed from maintenance control or, in some instances, just verbal instructions.

·          Mechanics report a culture of “just move the metal” and feel pressure to get the aircraft to the next station. This has been confirmed by pilot reports of mechanics asking them if they can “just take the aircraft as it is.”

·         There is a lack of spare parts. In some instances the spare parts that are available are not reliable. Because of this, mechanics are required to “cannibalize” parts from another aircraft because adequate in-stock spares are not available.

·         There is inadequate tooling and equipment. Mechanics have reported that critical jobs, such as the lubrication of stabilizer jack screws, cannot be performed due to a lack of training on equipment and unavailable equipment.

As a result of these maintenance issues, Allegiant customers experience emergency landings, diversions, and evacuations regularly. In October, the engine caught fire on a plane going from Las Vegas to Fresno shortly after take-off. Over the holidays, the same Allegiant Air aircraft made four emergency landings in six weeks. And in February, Allegiant passengers travelling from Fargo to Las Vegas were left stranded at the Hector International Airport due to a maintenance issue. Allegiant ordered a different aircraft to get the Fargo passengers to Las Vegas, which was again grounded for maintenance issues.

Additionally, the FAA is looking into a summer incident in which, according to Bloomberg News, a dangerous mechanical failure “caused the nose of an Allegiant Airlines jet to rise off the ground prematurely before takeoff, defying the crew’s attempts to push it down.”

Pilots at the airline have been speaking out to protect travelers and are raising concerns about the airline’s refusal to invest in its infrastructure, operations and workforce. Last April pilots posted an open letter to Allegiant customers  alerting them to concerns at the airline, including operational problems that lead to the delays and cancellations. Over the summer pilots sent another letter regarding their concerns, this time addressed to the company’s board of directors.  

In addition to the maintenance issues, pilots say there are major problems with turnover and staffing at the airline, in large part driven by Allegiant's refusal to work with its pilots to come to a much-needed and fair contract agreement. By the company’s own admission, the pilot resignation rate increased 600% between 2011 and 2014. For the future of Allegiant Air, pilots have urged the company to work with them and invest in all aspects of its operation, including maintenance and the workforce.

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