Allegiant Air and the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday pushed back on a “60 Minutes” segment that raised concerns about the safety and oversight of the Las Vegas-based budget carrier.
The news program reported that Allegiant self-reported more than 100 serious mechanical problems between Jan. 1, 2016 and October 2017 including rapid descents, engine failures and aborted takeoffs.
“60 Minutes” also claimed the FAA was lax in enforcing safety regulations with Allegiant.
“CBS produced a one-sided narrative by cherry-picking interviews and ignoring publicly available facts,” Capt. Eric Gust, Allegiant’s vice-president of operations, said in a prepared statement.
“The FAA exercises rigorous oversight of Allegiant, as they do all airlines operating in the United States,” Gust said. “Allegiant complies with all FAA requirements and participates in numerous safety programs to ensure we operate to the highest standards.”
The show aired Sunday night, about a month before a Clark County District Court judge is scheduled to hear arguments in a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by a former Allegiant pilot who was fired six weeks after ordering his passengers to evacuate during a 2015 emergency landing.
Court records show that Allegiant requested a gag order in the case last October, one month after an attorney representing Jason Kinzer offered to settle the pending lawsuit.
In the letter, Washington D.C.-based attorney Douglas Desjardins said that he did not cooperate with any news outlets, but added “we have strong reason to believe major media want to explore” Kinzer’s case. A settlement, Desjardins wrote, “would slam the door on further adverse publicity.”
Allegiant took the statement as a threat that Kinzer “would continue to foment the media frenzy” if a settlement was not reached, court records show.
Kinzer was fired six weeks after he brought Allegiant Air 864 in for an emergency landing and ordered a passenger evacuation from a twin-engine MD-80 jet at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport in Florida on June 8, 2015.
At the time, Kinzer said he followed what he thought was the safest procedure for his passengers and crew. His suit seeks damages of more than $10,000 for wrongful termination, defamation, infliction of emotional distress as well as punitive and exemplary damages.
“60 Minutes” had also extensively interviewed John Goglia, a former National Transportation Safety Board member who heavily criticized Allegiant. In his statement, Gust said that the show’s producers failed to disclose that Goglia is a paid expert witness in Kinzer’s upcoming trial.
FAA officials also took issue with the “60 Minutes” segment, which stated the agency “switched priorities” three years ago from enforcing airlines to comply with safety regulations to now working behind the scenes with carriers as a way to correct problems.
Since 2015, the FAA has investigated 48 violations with Allegiant Air and “ensured the carrier took corrective action,” agency officials said.
The FAA also said that “60 Minutes” inaccurately stated that the agency “re-certified” Allegiant for five years, following a 2016 audit and in-depth safety evaluation that cited “minor” issues with the airline. If a serious problem had been discovered, then FAA officials said “immediate action” would have been taken.
“The FAA’s top priority is, and always will be, ensuring operators follow our rules and regulations,” FAA officials said in a prepared statement. “The key to continuous improvements in airline safety is to create a sustainable culture of safety through an open and transparent exchange of information and data between the FAA and the airline industry.”