A discount airline popular among Metro Vancouver travellers has come under fire after an American television program raised alarming questions about its safety record over the weekend.
For years, U.S.-based Allegiant Air has been luring British Columbians south of the border with rock-bottom fares on flights between Bellingham, Wash. and destinations such as Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
But an investigation by CBS's "60 Minutes," alleges fliers might be paying in safety for what they're saving in costs.
The program looked at months' worth of service difficulty reports—self-reported records of mechanical problems experienced by the airline's fleet—and claims it found records of more than 100 serious mechanical issues between January 2016 and October 2017, including aborted takeoffs and emergency landings.
"I've encouraged my family, my friends and myself not to fly on Allegiant," former presidential appointee to the National Transportation Safety Board John Goglia told "60 Minutes."
The story said federal aviation reports indicated the carrier was 3.5 times more likely to suffer an in-flight breakdown than various competitors.
Canadian global affairs analyst and former aviation journalist Michael Bociurkiw said it's "absolutely shocking" that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration hasn't taken action against Allegiant, given the number of mechanical problems the airline's fleet has allegedly experienced.
"It's really mind-boggling that the administration, the federal regulators are not giving Allegiant a harder time for these very, very serious violations," he said.
Allegiant is in the process of renewing its fleet, but Bociurkiw said that alone isn't enough to ensure safety.
"It's really the safety culture of the airline that needs to change. You can bring in as many new aircraft as you like, but if they aren't maintained and if the pilots are not given the power to make split-second decisions when there's a safety problem, that's a big, big reason to avoid the airline," he said.
"Saving a few dollars is not worth your life."
In a statement, Allegiant's vice-president of operations Eric Gust called the "60 Minutes" piece "one-sided" and a "false narrative," saying that the airline complies with all federal requirements and takes part in "numerous voluntary safety programs to ensure we operate to the highest standards."
"To suggest that Allegiant would engage in the practice of asking team members to violate company and regulatory obligations is offensive and defamatory," the statement read. "CBS produced a one-sided narrative by cherry-picking interviews and ignoring publicly-available facts."
The airline also questioned Goglia's credibility, claiming he is a "paid expert witness" for a former Allegiant pilot who is now suing the company for wrongful termination.
Steven Allen, an Allegiant pilot, also issued a statement saying he is "deeply offended by the accusations" in the story.
"It is offensive to me and the hundreds of men and women I fly with every day to assume that we would ever knowingly operate unsafe aircraft," he wrote.
The FAA has also responded to the investigation, defending its safety standards and practices.
"The FAA has zero tolerance for intentional, reckless behavior, flagrant violations, or refusal to co-operate in corrective action by air carriers," it said in a statement, adding that it has "conducted ongoing evaluations of Allegiant's safety compliance, as it does with all carriers, and has not identified any significant or systemic problems with the carrier's current operation."
"Had we identified such problems, the FAA would have taken immediate action," the statement read.
But news of the scathing investigation quickly made its way north of the border, causing some travellers reconsider using the airline.
"I would never fly Allegiant," a woman at the Vancouver International Airport told CTV News.
"Aircraft maintenance is something I know a little bit about and I don't like playing with fire," said another man.
Others, however, weren't concerned about the report.
"To us, it's not really that big of a deal," said one traveller.
The "60 Minutes" piece has already sent the airline's shares plummeting, and Bociurkiw said it could shut the carrier down altogether.
It's unclear, however, if the turbulence will put off customers for good.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber