The budget airline Allegiant is the fourth largest carrier in Sioux Falls and has had more than 95,000 passengers fly out of the airport here to destinations like California and Florida.
But a 60 Minutes investigation has revealed that one of the nation's most profitable airlines may also be the most dangerous.
The report cites 100 serious mechanical incidents with Allegiant planes from January 1, 2016 through October 31, 2017.
Just last week, after landing in a snowstorm, an Allegiant airplane went skidding off the runway in Sioux Falls.
As KELOLAND News reported on April 8th, an Allegiant plane slid off the runway by about 20 feet with its nose gear going into the grass. While it was blamed on "rapidly changing weather conditions," KELOLAND Investigates has looked further into the incident report on the aging aircraft.
According to the incident report on this flight from Las Vegas attempting to land in Sioux Falls, the McDonnell Douglas MD-83 reported that its braking action was good. But upon landing, the crew reported the braking action was "nil" and they were advised they had gone off the runway.
No one was hurt, and Sioux Falls Airport Deputy Director Richard King told us it was not due to a failure of the plane's breaking system.
"When we refer to braking or braking action on an airport, it's how good are the braking conditions, it's just like when you drive down the street with your car, if you hit the brakes on dry pavement, or you hit the brakes on the little bit of ice; it makes a difference," King said.
While this incident was relatively minor, the 60 minutes report cited mechanical failures with older MD-80's including mid-air engine failures, smoke and fumes in the cabin, rapid descents, flight control malfunctions, hydraulic leaks and aborted takeoffs.
30 percent of Allegiant's aircrafts are aging McDonnell-Douglas MD-80's, like the one that went off the runway in Sioux Falls. Allegiant bought most of them used from foreign airlines.
"Early last year they announced to us their intentions to replace the fleet entirely by this November and I think what it comes down to a lot of what you see in that report is probably likely that aircraft specific issue; a very much aging aircraft, parts are more difficult to get; requires more routine maintenance, King said.
"The MD-80's are approximately 26, 27 years old," MacArthur said.
Investor Consultant Rob MacArthur obtained 300 pages of Federal Aviation Administration records through the Freedom of Information Act for Allegiant that showed a pattern of safety issues from 2015 to 2016. MacArthur, who wrote to the FAA about his findings, spoke to us via Skype.
"I would never fly an Allegiant Aircraft. If I ever knew a plane had an incident, or any incidents where there was smoke in the cabin repeatedly or some of the things we've uncovered, I would never fly that aircraft," MacArthur said.
But the FAA told 60 minutes this when it comes to mechanical issues with Allegiant.
"We're satisfied that-- that we are-- we are taking the appropriate actions with regard to Allegiant and every other carrier that we work with to make sure that those problems have been-- have been appropriately dealt with," John Duncan of the FAA told 60 Minutes.
However, a December 2017 U.S. Department of Transportation report by the Office of the Inspector General is titled: "FAA Oversight Is Not Keeping Pace With the Changes Occurring in the Regional Airline Industry."
The report gave the FAA ten recommendations for improvements, including revising its Safety Assurance System and providing actions inspectors should take after risks are identified through complaints.
KELOLAND Investigates reached out to Allegiant Airlines with our questions; after the report aired, the company sent a response.
When asked about the recent incident in Sioux Falls, Allegiant Media Relations shared the following explanation:
As far as the aircraft off the runway, that was not a mechanical issue with the aircraft at all. It was a weather-related issue – runway conditions were poor and the aircraft needed more distance than usual to come to a complete stop – similar to how your car needs more distance when the road is wet or icy.
The airline's response to 60 Minutes is posted below; we've also included a fact sheet shared by the company and a letter from an Allegiant pilot.
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