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Allegiant Air goes on defensive after explosive "60 Minutes" report

CBS News logo CBS News 4/16/2018 Caroline Linton

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A seven-month "60 Minutes" investigation into Allegiant Air, the Las Vegas-based ultra-low-cost carrier, found more than 100 serious incidents involving mechanical issues. The airline issued a brief statement to CBS News before the piece's aired but, in a response posted after the story aired and in an internal memo, the airline alleged the segment was a "false narrative." 

The internal memo was first tweeted by AirlineGeeks.com, and Allegiant later confirmed to CBS News that it had been sent to employees. "Know we are prepared to fight back against '60 Minutes,"' the memo reads.

"60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft said in an "Overtime" segment that "60 Minutes" got "no cooperation" from either Allegiant or the FAA in the beginning of reporting the story. 

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In the memo, Allegiant blamed the report on a "terminated employee" who is currently engaged in a lawsuit seeking money damages against the company. 

It's unclear which employee Allegiant is referring to. The "60 Minutes" piece details an incident involving Captain Jason Kinzer, who was fired in 2015, six weeks after turning around shortly after takeoff due to smoke in the cabin. Loretta Alkalay, who spent 30 years as an FAA lawyer, said she has "never ever heard of an airline firing a pilot for an emergency evacuation."

But Kinzer's story is just one of few incidents detailed in the report. "60 Minutes" quoted air safety experts and passengers, and public documents show an alarming number of aborted takeoffs, cases of cabin pressure loss, emergency descents, and unscheduled landings.

On its social media feed, Allegiant answered those who tweeted "they were worried" by asking them to send a private message. In response to one comment, Allegiant wrote "we'd like to share our concerns about the story with you." It's unclear what Allegiant means by "concerns." 

Two Allegiant Air jets taxi at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas May 9, 2013. © AP Photo/David Becker Two Allegiant Air jets taxi at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas May 9, 2013. Allegiant posted a new statement after the segment aired, taking a similar tone in the memo. "Incidents referenced are years old, and took place before our most recent, comprehensive FAA audit. The story breaks no news," the statement reads.

The "60 Minutes" story is not about old incidents: Between Jan. 1, 2016 and the end of Oct. 2017, "60 Minutes" 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.

The story highlights how Allegiant's problems come from the confluence of its aggressive business model and safety culture aviation experts find to be lagging.

John Goglia, who has more than 40 years of experience in the aviation industry, including nine as a presidential appointee to the National Transportation Safety Board, told "60 Minutes he has encouraged his family and friends not to fly on Allegiant.

Users on social media were shocked by the report. Kroft himself said in the "Overtime" segment that he is "flabbergasted" that not more people know about Allegiant's safety record.

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