An investigation by the Tampa Bay Times has found that Allegiant Air’s planes are four times as likely to break down in flight as those operated by other major U.S. airlines.
Allegiant is one of three airlines serving the Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Pasco.
The Tampa Bay Times report published Wednesday said Allegiant jets were forced to make unexpected landings at least 77 times in 2015 for serious mechanical failures. The report said 39 of those were engine failures, and 26 occurred in the tail compartment.
Tampa Bay reporters built a database of more than 65,000 records from the Federal Aviation Administration to evaluate airline safety.
Its report highlighted a May incident involving a flight that originated in Pasco. Passenger Jessica Stofell of Kennewick said the flight went smoothly until a terrifying landing at Mesa-Phoenix Gateway Airport in Arizona left her fearing for her life.
Gusting winds forced the pilot to make a go-around. Stofell reported hearing a terrible grinding as the wing seemingly touched the ground. The plane landed 17 minutes later after losing power in one engine, according to an Aviation Herald report.
“It was pretty scary,” Stofell told the Tri-City Herald at the time. “And after all that ordeal, we really wanted to get off that plane. They handled it horribly.”
Also among the Tampa Bay findings: Forty-two of Allegiant’s 86 planes broke down in mid-flight at least once in 2015. Among them were 15 forced to land by failing engines, nine by overheating tail compartments and six by smoke or the smell of something burning.
None of the incidents prompted enforcement action from the Federal Aviation Administration, which doesn’t compare airline breakdown records to look for warning signs.
But a Washington Post report earlier this year cited FAA records for Allegiant that show a pattern of safety problems that have triggered a relatively large number of aborted takeoffs, emergency descents and emergency landings from Jan. 1, 2015, to March 2016.
“I don’t think there’s a safety problem,” Jude Bricker, Allegiant’s chief operating officer, said in an interview earlier this year. He said the unscheduled landings, in particular, were the result of cautious pilots putting the safety of passengers foremost.
Tampa Bay reporters built a database of more than 65,000 records from the FAA.
The newspaper reports that during interviews at the company’s Las Vegas headquarters, Allegiant acknowledged that its planes break down too often and said the company is changing the way it operates.
In July, Allegiant said it had agreed to depart from customary practice and buy 12 new Airbus A320s for delivery by 2018.
But the company’s earnings are falling, according to an Oct. 27 report that shows shares of Allegiant Travel Co., the parent of Allegiant Air, plunged 13 percent in the third quarter. Fares have been falling across the airline industry because carriers are adding flights faster than demand is growing, but the decline was sharper at Allegiant.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.