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Monday, Dec 18, 2017
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FAA investigating Allegiant Air after high-profile incidents

TAMPA — The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating Allegiant Air, the carrier that has experienced repeated mechanical problems and emergency landings and operates more than 100 flights a week out of St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

The FAA confirmed that it is conducting an evaluation of Allegiant. The agency said the evaluation, known as the National Certificate Holder Evaluation, is performed on all airlines every five years, but Allegiant’s evaluation was moved up from 2018 to this month after a pair of high-profile incidents.

“The purpose of the review is to verify a company is complying with applicable regulations; determine whether it is operating at the highest possible degree of safety; and identify and address any problems that we identify,” said Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the FAA’s Pacific Division, in an email to The Tampa Tribune.

The evaluation is expected to be completed by late June.

In July, an Allegiant jet made an emergency landing at a closed airport in Fargo, N.D. after running low on fuel. The airport had been closed for a practice session of the Navy’s Blue Angels precision flight team, but the Allegiant jet was allowed to land.

Allegiant Air increased training for pilots and dispatchers and received a “letter of correction” from the FAA.

In August, pilots had to abort the takeoff of an Allegiant jet in Las Vegas that suffered a mechanical failure that caused the nose of the aircraft to rise prematurely. The airline blamed a fault in the elevator, a part of the tail that helps a plane climb or descend.

The FAA said it intensified its focus on Allegiant’s flight operations and aircraft maintenance programs after that problem.

The two incidents prompted the FAA to move up the Allegiant evaluation.

“We are confident in our operations, and we welcome the oversight,” Allegiant said in an email to the Tribune.

Las Vegas-based Allegiant was formed in 1997 as a budget carrier to connect smaller-town northern residents to vacation hotspots such as Orlando, Tampa and Las Vegas. It uses secondary airports with lower landing fees in many markets, such as St. Petersburg-Clearwater International and Orlando-Sanford International.

Allegiant carried about 95 percent of the 1.6 million travelers who used the Pinellas airport last year.

There have been additional incidents. In March, the Aviation Mechanics Coalition released a report to its Teamsters Union airline division, members of Congress, the FAA and the general public that detailed 98 maintenance issues from September 2015 through January 2016.

Thirteen of those incidents occurred on flights departing or arriving at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International, ranging from a diversion to another airport for hydraulic system issues to a jet returning to the Pinellas airport with smoke in the cabin.

In March, an Allegiant jet en route from the Pinellas County airport to Elmira, N.Y. was diverted to Baltimore under crash landing procedures due to faulty brakes. In February, a flight bound for Omaha, Neb., made an emergency landing in Birmingham, Ala., due to smoke in the cabin.

Later that month, a takeoff from St. Petersburg-Clearwater International bound for Kansas City, Mo., was aborted due to an engine problem.

Airline officials say much of the bad press stems from union propaganda. Allegiant has been in ongoing disputes with its pilots, who are represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and its 600 flight attendants, who are represented by the Transport Workers’ Union. Its mechanics are not unionized.

The airline has been critical of the mechanics’ coalition, which has been compiling off-the-record reports of Allegiant flight incidents from pilots since 2014.

Pilots have threatened to strike, but a federal judge intervened to halt any walkoff.

Reports of Allegiant’s issues haven’t deterred investors or passengers. For its first quarter ended March 31, parent company Allegiant Travel Co. reported net income of $72 million, up from $65 million the same quarter of 2015.

The company said it executed agreements for a total of 11 additional Airbus aircraft to be delivered by 2020, and the company is operating 298 routes, up from 247 in the first quarter of 2015.

Earlier this month, the airline added new nonstop service from St. Petersburg-Clearwater to Flint, Mich., and to Dayton, Ohio. It will add its 50th destination, New Orleans, from the Pinellas airport in June.

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