Millions of people travel through the world’s airports every day of the year. Passengers and crew alike board aircraft traveling far and wide with the expectation that their journey will be a smooth and safe venture. It’s a feeling born of complacency that the public believes based on the relatively small number of airline accidents. What that feeling hides though is the fact that a number of airlines are repeatedly placing customers and employee safety in jeopardy by failing to safely maintain their aircraft while flagrantly flaunting FAA regulations.
Among the worst offenders is Allegiant Airlines, and this year alone a number of complaints and lawsuits have been filed against the company by employees who have raised red flags, or been fired for following standard safety protocols that saved lives but ultimately cost the company money. It has become such a pattern that the FAA has launched an investigation into the company’s operations and has raised the concern of many airplane injury lawyers.
Earlier this year, pilots at Allegiant raised concerns that the airline was deliberately cutting corners on safety for the sake of profit. The pilots claimed that the company was ignoring FAA recommendations in regard to safety programs and utilizing scheduling systems that were leading to pilot fatigue. Moreover, they outlined 38 potentially lethal incidents that involved in-flight engine failures, pressurization failures, and smoke within the cockpit. These incidents all occurred within the first three months of 2015.
Another carrier raising serious concerns is Southwest Airlines. The FAA fined the airline $328,000 this past Spring after mechanics failed to correct issues with cabin oxygen bottles and deliberately chose not to log these deficiencies with the FAA. This followed a frightening February when Southwest canceled dozens of flights after it was discovered that over 20% of the fleet was overdue for regular maintenance. It’s a common problem and this past summer the FAA fined SkyWest for flying 6,700 flights using airplanes that were seriously overdue for inspections.
The troubles at Allegiant, Southwest, and SkyWest bring into question whether FAA oversight is effective. A government audit released in March of 2014 outlined serious deficiencies in the FAA’s operations. Among the most concerning information within the audit were failures to follow-up on safety investigations and the inability of the agency to accurately track aircraft. Most troubling of all, the audit showed the FAA had lost track of over 100,000 aircraft within their registry.
Passengers and crew have genuine reasons to be concerned about air travel safety. In August, an Allegiant MD-80 taking off from Las Vegas had to abort the flight during takeoff when pilots indicated difficulty controlling the plane’s direction. Upon inspection the aircraft was found to have a loose bolt on the tail stabilizer; the third time the same problem had been discovered within Allegiant’s fleet.
Pilots at Allegiant, Southwest, and other airlines are speaking up and raising concerns over airline maintenance and safety records. Allegiant’s pilots have become so frustrated, and indeed frightened to fly, that they have requested the National Mediation Board release them from mediated discussions with the company to seek recourse using their own airplane injury lawyers.
As the complaints, fines, and investigations mount, it is becoming clear that passengers and crew aren’t flying in the friendliest of skies. Moreover, it is becoming apparent that FAA inspections and enforcement measures are flawed which is putting the safety of air travel in question even as the FAA continues to levy fines for maintenance, drug testing, and training violations.
Air crew are hoping that the concerns being raised will lead to changes within the FAA’s Voluntary Disclosure Reporting Program (VDRP). The FAA currently requires airlines to file reports in regard to any major issue that occurs in flight; however, it does not require airlines to file reports if the issue occurs on the ground. Moreover, the FAA gives airlines broad discretion in determining whether or not an issue is serious enough to warrant the filing of a report. This means that an untold number of maintenance and safety issues are going unreported.
If no issue is reported, then there is no follow-up to determine whether or not the issue has been resolved, or whether it’s still putting passengers at risk as was the case with Southwest’s oxygen bottles. These could be minor issues such as faulty batteries in a flashlight, or they could be major issues such as cracked windshields, shorts in the electrical systems, and smoking batteries. In the past, the FAA has resisted calls by pilot’s and mechanic’s unions to tighten these reporting standards. However, it appears that a tipping point may have been reached. With multiple carriers showing signs of flagrant violations of air safety standards, it is becoming clear to the agency that strengthening reporting protocols is necessary to protecting passenger and airline employee safety in the future.