Op Ed: Mark Williams On FAA’s Apparent Lack Of Concern (Or Its Ineptitude)

“60 Minutes” on Sunday ran a segment about “persistent” safety issues and “an alarming number” of mechanical incidents at Allegiant Air, the ultra-low-cost carrier based in Las Vegas. “Between Jan. 1, 2016, and the end of last October, we found more than 100 serious mechanical incidents, including mid-air engine failures, smoke and fumes in the cabin, rapid descents, flight control malfunctions, hydraulic leaks and aborted takeoffs,” according to the program, which airs on CBS. “60 Minutes” cited FAA records and conducted interviews with pilots, mechanics and industry experts.

According to the broadcast, those experts blamed Allegiant’s “aggressive business model,” a safety culture that is “lagging” and “FAA’s passive approach to correcting Allegiant’s difficulties.” That last part, “60 Minutes” added, stemmed from FAA switching priorities “from actively enforcing safety rules with fines, warning letters and sanctions — which become part of the public record — to working quietly with the airlines behind the scenes to fix the problems.” According to the airline’s response, a recent FAA audit confirmed a “strong safety record” at a company where “safety is at the forefront of our minds and the core of our operations.” FAA’s response to the CBS investigation is here.

A few U.S. senators called for an investigation. The way travel management veteran Mark Williams sees it, that would be a step in the right direction. The former consultant and buyer, now CFO at marketing and consulting firm Dots & Lines, shares his concerns here.

The Sunday “60 Minutes” exposé raises the question, would you fly Allegiant Airlines? Further, as a travel manager, would you allow your travelers to fly Allegiant?

Dots & Lines CFO Mark Williams

For many readers of The Company Dime, these questions don’t require an answer. Allegiant is an airline focused primarily on the leisure sector. Allegiant is based in, and has its largest operation in, Las Vegas, with other large markets including Florida and southern California – all largely leisure destinations. Allegiant only has 99 planes and flies most routes on a limited schedule of three or four times per week. Therefore, the impact of the airline in the business travel market is very limited.

For me, the larger issue raised in the report is what must be described as the seeming lack of concern, or perhaps ineptitude, on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration. The evidence presented in the report is all public, and the FAA acknowledged the accuracy of the reporting. Yet, when asked what steps were, or are, being taken to protect the flying public, the response was simply, “The incidents have been addressed.” As a member of the flying public and a former travel manager concerned for the safety of my company’s travelers, that response is less than reassuring, to say the least. Furthermore, it begs the question – if the FAA is nonchalant about Allegiant, could it be nonchalant about other airlines?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying there is a disaster looming with the major airlines we rely on to deliver our travelers safely every day. But, I think history tells us that when a culture of complacency becomes endemic within any organization, the chances for dangerous mistakes increase. Further, fatal incidents tend to follow an extended period of success. Following 50 highly successful space shuttle launches, the phenomenon had become almost routine for the public, until multiple issues within NASA led to the Challenger disaster. Many other examples of complacency leading to mistakes abound. It’s one of the reasons pilots follow a preflight checklist, regardless of the flight hours under their belt; the misuse or non-use of the preflight checklist has been often cited as a major contributing factor to aircraft accidents.

Recently, the FAA has experienced an unprecedented period of minimal flight issues, and no airline-related deaths in over five years. Yet, where complacency exists, mediocrity typically follows. As an industry we cannot allow complacency to become the culture of the organization charged with ensuring the safety of our travelers.

Let’s take steps as an industry to make certain the issues stop with Allegiant, and do not become a broader concern. Pressure the FAA, perhaps through Congressional oversight. Push the airlines to be more transparent. Maybe mechanical incidents should be published monthly along with the complaints, on-time and baggage statistics? Then travelers can factor that information into their buying behavior.

As for me, I will not fly Allegiant Airlines now or anytime soon. As a travel manager, I wouldn’t allow my travelers to fly them either.

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Mark Williams

Author: Mark Williams

Mark Williams is managing director for the U.S. at consulting firm Nina & Pinta and CFO at Dots & Lines, a marketing, public relations and brand management firm. He previously served as a partner with GoldSpring Consulting. Before that he was a principal at Advito, the consulting division of BCD Travel, and worked in the Business Transformation Outsourcing practice at IBM. Mark has 25 years of experience in business travel management, beginning in the late 1980s working for WorldTravel Partners, followed by 10 years as the director of travel for Price Waterhouse and PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has a Bachelor's degree in Accountancy from Wake Forest University and a Master of Taxation degree from Georgia State University. Mark is a former president of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


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Larry SilmanDavid LeCompteAlan TysonChris DaneDoug Weeks Recent comment authors
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Doug Weeks
Doug Weeks

Great commentary Mark and agree completely 100%.

David LeCompte
David LeCompte

Well… Pretty much FAA is saying, “60 minutes, you are idiots and spreading false fear, let us do our job.”

Also, if you look at the opening segment, behind Steve Croft, the compass goes to 380 degrees. This really gives me faith that CBS/60 Minutes knows what they are talking about. (PS – a real compass goes to 360 degrees).

Chris Dane
Chris Dane

More importantly for business travelers, safety issues aside, should you experience any kind of extended maintenance issue/cancellation on a flight that you are booked, don’t expect them to react the way the major network carriers respond. Given their limited schedules and aircraft you can and will find yourself left “out in the cold,” purchasing an expensive last-minute ticket on a “real” airline, thus mitigating any savings you may have anticipated. For that reason alone, no business traveler should fly them. Remember “cheap can be expensive.”

David Jonas

Regardless of whether or not it’s true that flying Allegiant is substantially riskier than flying other domestic airlines, the claim by “60 Minutes” raises questions for those responsible for business travel. Does the public dissemination of such a warning increase duty-of-care liability? Is allowing an employee to fly Allegiant after the broadcast legally comparable to sending an employee into a neighborhood known for a high incidence of crime? Most organizations could play it safe without major consequence and decertify Allegiant as a vendor. The right call becomes murkier when less traditional sources are propagating the “news,” and the subjects are… Read more »

David LeCompte
David LeCompte

CBS is not the FAA. Either we trust the FAA is doing their job, or we don’t. If you don’t, then what are we left with (to your point)? See FAA’s letter in the link in my comment above. Side note: Allegiant is not the airline for business travelers.

Larry Silman

Call me old-school, but the terms “start-up” and “airline” don’t often mix very well, especially in the U.S. Last year saw the launch of more than 75 new air carriers, mostly in Europe, but quite a few in ASPAC and Africa, but nearly 25 carriers failed in 2017. Every month, we read of some “new business model” bound for the skies, but how will these new models pay to recruit, train and retain high-quality talent, and adhere to the safety standards of today’s major carriers? And, aside from those ever-shrinking seats (!), what problem are they solving? Flying is relatively… Read more »