Less than a week after Allegiant Airlines launched service between Sarasota Bradenton International Airport and Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Indianapolis, "60 Minutes" aired a report critical of the company's safety record.
"60 Minutes" based its report on analysis that showed that the low-cost carrier was 3.5 times more likely than other major airlines to have mechanical problems.
Rick Piccolo, president and CEO of Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, took the report in stride.
"The reports are kind of old," Piccolo said of the data that "60 Minutes" reviewed.
"The FAA treats every carrier the same. If there was anything important, they would act on it. I have the utmost faith in the FAA and their safety requirements," Piccolo said. "If there were any problems, I think they would take care of it."
Allegiant has been taking its MD-80 jetliners out of service and replacing them with Airbuses, driving down the airline's rate of mechanical problems, he said.
Allegiant now has fewer MD-80s than Delta and American Airlines, Piccolo added.
Allegiant's arriving and departing flights at SRQ were essentially full last week. Piccolo had no information on Allegiant's only flight Monday.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the top Democrat on the Senate panel that oversees the airlines, is calling for an investigation into the Federal Aviation Administration’s handling of safety-related incidents involving Allegiant Air.
The "60 Minutes" report raised questions about Allegiant’s safety record after finding the airline had more than 100 mechanical issues between January 2016 and October 2017.
“The traveling public deserves to know whether the FAA is conducting thorough safety oversight of Allegiant,” Nelson wrote. “Anything less could lead to disastrous consequences.”
On Monday, Allegiant issued a statement by Eric Gust, vice president of operations, charging that the CBS story told a “false narrative” about Allegiant and the FAA. He said the airline complies with all FAA requirements and takes part in many voluntary safety programs and is subject to “rigorous oversight” by the FAA.
“To suggest that Allegiant would engage in the practice of asking team members to violate company and regulatory obligations is offensive and defamatory,” Gust said.
The CBS report updated reporting by the Tampa Bay Times, which said in 2015 that Allegiant planes were four more times than those of other U.S. airlines to make an unplanned landing because of mechanical problems. None of those incidents led to enforcement action from the FAA.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.