Just nine weeks after Mahoning Valley residents witnessed the quick demise of daily commercial air service out of Youngstown, questions are now arising about a low-fare carrier that has served the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport for a decade.
An exhaustive, investigative story by the Tampa Bay Times about the large number of midair mechanical break- downs of planes operated by Allegiant Air does give pause. The story was published on the front page of Sunday’s Vindicator.
Although the Federal Aviation Administration has not taken any enforcement action against Allegiant and appears to have given the budget carrier a clean bill of health, we believe an unequivocal statement from the agency about the airworthiness of the planes is warranted.
For many Americans, air travel is an anxiety-filled experience. From being forced to go through a tense security check, to worrying about whether an airline has overbooked its flight, to hoping that luggage isn’t lost, flying isn’t as enjoyable as it used to be.
But most people have learned to live with those realities.
What isn’t so easy to ignore is the safety of an airline’s fleet of aircraft.
The Tampa Bay Times’ investigation found that the jets operated by Allegiant are four times as likely to break down during flight as those of other carriers.
Indeed, in 2015, Allegiant jets were forced to make unexpected landings at least 77 times for serious mechanical failures, the newspaper found.
It should be noted that none of the incidents resulted in FAA sanctions.
Allegiant operates 86 planes, mostly McDonnell Douglas MD-80s with an average age of 22 years. By comparison, the average age of planes flown by other carriers is 12 years.
Though Allegiant executives told the Florida newspaper that the carrier is investing $1 billion in newer planes, the phasing out of the MD-80s won’t be complete until 2019.
That’s why we want the Federal Aviation Administration to issue a public statement about the findings of the newspaper’s investigation and its own evaluation of the airline’s flight and maintenance records.
This call for federal government intervention is prompted by our concern that uncertainty on the part of the flying public could undermine Allegiant’s presence in the Mahoning Valley.
The airline offers service to Orlando, Fort Myers and Tampa in Florida and Myrtle Beach, S.C.
‘ALLEGIANCE TO ALLEGIANT’
Dan Dickten, director of aviation at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, acknowledges “our allegiance to Allegiant” and, in reaction to the newspaper probe, said there had been no emergencies locally with the planes.
“We haven’t had anything that’s been more than a precautionary [event],” Dickten told The Vindicator.
On Friday, Allegiant informed Dickten that it has developed an aggressive program to address the issues with the aircraft. The director of aviation also said he is aware that the carrier is in the process of replacing its older planes.
“They aren’t the only airline that has issues, of course,” Dickten said.
That may be true, but we would like to hear it from the FAA.
In April, the agency launched a three-month review of Allegiant’s maintenance, training and operations programs. While it found problems with maintenance paperwork, it said nothing was discovered that warranted a fine or other serious enforcement action.
The FAA required Allegiant to file a plan for addressing the agency’s findings, which the airline did in September.
The FAA accepted the plan – in effect giving Allegiant a clean bill of health.
The airline did not dispute the findings of the Tampa Bay Times’ investigation but pointed out that its focus is on “running a better operation.”
The Mahoning Valley is still reeling from the decision in August by Great Lakes JetExpress to discontinue daily service to Chicago after only a month.
Great Lakes had received $350,000 of a $1.2 million revenue guarantee from the Western Reserve Port Authority before the airport’s governing body pulled the plug.
At the time, we called on the U.S. Department of Transportation to find out what happened, given that most of the guarantee money came from the federal government.
We continue to believe that a viable airport with daily commercial service is crucial to the Valley’s economic revival.
That’s why we are pushing for some straight answers from the U.S. government.