It’s clear why Allegiant Air is the most rewarding airline in the sky.
The Las Vegas-based airline run by Allegiant Travel Co. has an effective business design constructed around flying locals of small-town America to the leisure destinations they like.
And, in 90 percent of the cities the airline company flies, it’s the only game in town. To the Bozemans, Minots and Laredos of the world, Allegiant offers inexpensive jet traveler service to places such as Orlando, Phoenix and Las Vegas.
Allegiant’s greatest competitors is the living-room couch.
It’s also clear that Allegiant preserves a high revenue margin with low functional expenses, including utilizing airplane that are considered old by industry requirements but still have thousands of functional hours ahead of them.
But a current rash of emergency landings and uncommon air travel occurrences have actually put Allegiant in the spotlight and have left many observers asking if the business’s old fleet has actually broken its welcome.
Because the start of 2015, there have actually been 16 reported events involving Allegiant flights that led to emergency situation landings, air travel diversions, aborted takeoffs or, perhaps the most strange of all, a passenger-initiated evacuation.
The most serious event occurred in Las Vegas on Aug. 17 when the nose of a twin-engine MD-80 jet on its launch roll started increasing too soon, defying the flight team’s attempts to keep it down. When the plane reached 138 miles per hour, the pilot terminated the takeoff, bringing the jet to a stop, according to a report filed with the Federal Aviation Administration.
A preliminary FAA examination discovered that a nut on a component that moves the left elevator had fallen off, causing the control surface area to become jammed in the up position. A comparable situation led to the crash of an Alaska Airlines MD-80 over the Pacific Ocean on Jan. 31, 2000.
A ROUGH SUMMER
It’s been a rough summer season for Allegiant:
– On Monday, an Allegiant Boeing 757 bound for Las Vegas from Austin, Texas, terminated a launch after an engine indication light came on. The team reported a medical emergency situation for a woman suffering a panic attack and seven of the airplane’s eight tires blew as an outcome of the stop, according to an account in the Aviation Herald.
– On Aug. 3, the crew of an MD-80 jet flying from St. Petersburg, Fla., to Richmond, Va., carried out a precautionary shutdown of an engine inflight and landed safely in Greensboro, N.C.
– On Aug. 1, the pilot of a Boeing 757 removing from McCarran for Fresno, Calif., stated an emergency and went back to Las Vegas after a reported compressor stall. The engine was running with decreased drive, but travelers reported flames originating from the influenced engine. The aircraft landed without occurrence.
– On July 20, an Allegiant MD-80 crew flying from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Memphis, Tenn., reported smoke in the cabin and diverted to Orlando’s Sanford International Airport. The airplane landed securely.
– On July 3, the crew of an MD-80 flying from Ashville, N.C., to Punta Gorda, Fla., asked for to land in Sarasota, then chose to divert to St. Petersburg, Fla. The crew identified it was a defective sensing unit reading.
– On June 25, an MD-80 flight from St. Petersburg to Niagara Falls, N.Y., diverted to Orlando Sanford Airport after a sensing unit problem. It ended up there was a wasp in the sensor.
– On June 18, an Allegiant Jet A320 flying from St. Petersburg to Pittsburgh went back to the St. Petersburg airport since the aircraft wasn’t pressurizing effectively.
– On June 12, an Allegiant MD-80 air travel from Las Vegas to Moline, Ill., went back to Las Vegas after an engine warning light lit up.
THE FARGO INCIDENT
Then, there was the occurrence that might be been Allegiant’s a lot of awkward. An MD-80 flight from Las Vegas to Fargo, N.D., left McCarran late because of an onboard medical emergency. But by the time the air travel reached the airspace near Fargo, the team discovered that the airport was closed due to the fact that of a practice by the Navy’s Blue Angels precision air travel team. The closure was noted on FAA notifications to airmen, but the crew and the ground dispatch team apparently didn’t note it. By the time the air travel was getting near Fargo, the airplane was getting near dipping into its 45 minutes of reserve fuel.
The crew proclaimed an emergency and landed at Fargo and in subsequent disclosures by the airline company, it was determined that Allegiant’s vice president of operations and the director of flight safety, federal government affairs and quality assurance, were at the controls.
The FAA still has open investigations on the Fargo incident and Aug. 17’s aborted takeoff in Las Vegas.
Another event under scrutiny was a passenger-initiated evacuation of an aircraft in Boise, Idaho, on June 12. The flight had actually gotten to Boise Airport from Los Angeles and travelers were waiting to be deplaned. Ground crews had not yet linked the cooling and it was fuming and stuffy inside the aircraft.
Passengers then reported smelling jet fuel from the back of the airplane. When the a/c came on, condensation came through the air vents. Travelers stressed and those sitting in the fire escape took the initiative of popping open the doors over the wing without direction from the flight team. Before long, passengers emerged onto the wing, some with carry-on travel luggage in hand.
Are Allegiant planes unsafe because of their age? MD-80s were produced from 1979 to 1999. Are travelers so jittery in viewing risk that they would bail out to the wing of an aircraft?
Allegiant Chief Operating Officer Steve Harfst didn’t have anything to state about the Boise evacuation, which he admitted was among the strangest things he had actually ever seen in his aviation profession.
But he’s likewise extremely confident that Allegiant’s fleet is safe and that it’s preserved as well as any airline company in the nation.
“Safety is our No. 1 concern,” Harfst stated in a current memorandum to all Allegiant workers.
“Nothing defeats security. Not schedule, not earnings, not on-time performance. Nothing,” he said. “This is the most bedrock concept of our career, our market, our business, our operations group and of every air travel we push.”
Although the most ardent critics lay the blame of the recent spate of events on the aging fleet, aeronautics experts concur that age has nothing to do with it.
“An aircraft that simply came out of the factory can be ‘old’ if it’s not preserved correctly,” stated Mike Boyd, an Evergreen, Colo.-based aviation consultant who is conducting an aeronautics forecast summit in Las Vegas today.
“Age is practically a worthless number,” Boyd said. “If we all looked after our automobiles like they (Allegiant) look after their aircrafts, we ‘d all be driving around in ’56 Oldsmobiles.”
The primary reason Allegiant flies older airplane is because they can be acquired at a fraction of what new airplanes cost. Allegiant can get an utilized MD-80 for $3.5 million to $5 million while a brand-new Jet A320 costs about $60 million.
Allegiant owns all of its airplanes so there’s no funding costs related to the fleet.
“It’s just like a consumer purchasing an automobile,” Harfst stated in a recent interview. “You assess just how much it will certainly cost you over time for a new one, however when it boils down to it, you might be better off with a made use of car that you can pay off immediately and still get lots of usage if you keep up on the maintenance.”
Harfst stated utilizing older planes keeps expenses low and since Allegiant’s fleet usage is a lot different from most airline companies, it makes sense for the company.
“We do not focus too much on how much life (an aircraft) has left because airplane can fly for rather some time. Since we fly such low frequencies, such low usage, it’s sort of like changing the oil on your vehicle every 3,000 miles.
“Because we put such low hours and cycles on our aircraft daily, the aircraft might be aged, but we’re not making use of the aircraft to the level that another airline would do that’s flying 13 hours a day, every day, 6 to eight cycles a day. We perhaps do two or three cycles a day and just fly a couple of hours. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, much of the fleet is parked,” he stated.
That’s due to the fact that of Allegiant’s uncommon business model of low frequencies.
The business will only fly a path twice or 3 times a week while airlines such as Frontier and Spirit, which have similar ticket pricing structures, fly a location 2 or three times a day.
“It’s a little a misnomer when you aim to take a look at the age of the airplane,” he stated. “What we actually focus on are the cycles, the amount of flights the aircraft does. That’s what drives the scheduled maintenance events for an airplane. Because we fly so infrequently compared to what the airplane was truly created to do, we tend to hit those calendar limits long prior to we hit the cycle limitation that would need upkeep to be done. While the aircraft itself may be old in years, the real use of that aircraft is much less.”
A lot of regular maintenance is performed by Allegiant’s own mechanics. The business has 80– most with a minimum of 9 years of seniority with the business and more than 18 years of experience– based in Las Vegas.
When it comes to major upkeep, Allegiant, like many airlines, sends its airplane to specialized bases in Indianapolis and Oklahoma City.
Among the distinct aspects to Allegiant’s business design is that every flight is an out-and-back operation. That implies team members have the luxury of investing the night in their own homes every night if they operate from their online. They’ll work a flight from Las Vegas to Fargo, for instance, and then fly the return back to Las Vegas.
With that type of model in location, it’s also why Allegiant does everything it can to land airplanes in recognized maintenance bases. A mechanic and a spare part is offered in Las Vegas– but it typically isn’t really in Fargo, where the airline company needs to work with contracted mechanics and fly in required parts.
Some of Allegiant’s greatest critics come from a group that has ended up being near to the business in the past 3 years– the Teamsters union.
Allegiant pilots chose representation by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in August 2012 and the union and management have actually been working to hammer out its first contract ever since.
Throughout the procedure, the union has actually taken every opportunity to point out maintenance concerns in an apparent bid to humiliate the company into collapsing settlements.
The Teamsters commissioned a report by the Teamsters Aeronautics Mechanics Coalition that was not performed by Allegiant mechanics, who are not represented by the union. The company says the report was composed without a mechanic even looking at an Allegiant airplane.
The union has publicly declared that Allegiant pilots have security issues– and some have talked with the media about those issues.
However Allegiant Chairman Maurice Gallagher, who thinks about the union an undesirable 3rd party to contract negotiations, calls the Teamster techniques “a distraction.”
“They are intended to sidetrack our management, our pilots and our clients from the actual issue at hand: negotiating an agreement that is fair to our pilots while ensuring that we can remain to offer our consumers the low-fare nonstop service they desire.”
Would pilots be too watchful in their decisions about declaring an emergency, just to call interest to perceived maintenance troubles?
“I don’t believe that for a minute,” Harfst stated. “I have complete faith and confidence in our air travel teams.”
When labor relations are a factor, the FAA regularly keeps a better see on an airline and Allegiant has been no exception. Allegiant’s certificate is overseen by the Las Vegas air travel standards district workplace and, like the majority of commercial providers, Allegiant has virtually everyday contact with regulators.
How have the air travel incidents and the union acrimony suggested to Allegiant’s bottom line?
“We’ve seen no dips in bookings over the summertime,” Harfst said. “In reality, we have actually surpassed our forecasts and our reservations have been the greatest in the airline’s history. Naturally, part of that is our growth into brand-new markets.”
Allegiant has 294 routes, serving 107 U.S. cities with 77 airplane. By comparison, Southwest Airlines, the busiest carrier at McCarran, serves 95 cities and has 679 aircraft.
In 2014, Allegiant Travel reported adjusted net income of $113.3 million, $6.37 a share, on income of $1.14 billion. Profits per share that year were 32.2 percent ahead of 2013 and the business reported return on capital of 19.2 percent.
Harfst stated Allegiant has a long-term plan to transform the airline to an all-Airbus fleet, not a lot due to the fact that the jets would be more recent but because they ‘d be more fuel effective, more cost-effective to operate and will have greater ability and thus, more rewarding to fly.
Allegiant simply announced the planned acquisition of its 50th Airplane A320-model aircraft (its A319s are considered a part of that fleet). By 2018, Harfst stated most of Allegiant’s jets will certainly be Planes with 56 of 100 in the mix. The business slowly prepares to retire the MD-80 jets, however that will take a number of years to accomplish.
When that occurs, critics won’t have the old MD-80s to kick around anymore– but by then, a few of the “brand-new” Plane aircrafts may practically be as old as the MD-80s are to the company now.
Contact press reporter Richard N. Velotta at [email protected]!.?.! or 702-477-3893. Find @RickVelotta on Twitter.