Ethan Miller—Getty Images
Ethan Miller—Getty Images
By David Z. Morris
December 18, 2016

On Friday, the Tampa Bay Times published the results of an in-depth investigation of the FAA’s oversight of Allegiant Air, a budget airline with operations in Florida and California. The Times found that despite dozens of in-flight breakdowns and safety failures, the FAA took no enforcement action against the airline.

More broadly, the Times argues that the FAA’s oversight of airlines has itself experienced multiple “breakdowns,” and that the agency is failing in its duty to protect the safety of air passengers. In part, that’s due to the failure of a 15-year push to develop a system for monitoring airline safety data. Former officials told the Times that U.S. airlines’ strong safety record was under threat by what has, under a passive FAA, essentially become a system of self-regulation.

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The Times investigation centers on a string of mechanical incidents at Allegiant. Following two serious near-accidents involving faulty maintenance, one in 2013 and one in 2015, Allegiant simply told the FAA it would change its maintenance procedures. It faced no fines or substantive investigation by the FAA.

The same went for a 2015 string of mechanical failures that caused unplanned landings. In one four-day period, 10 Allegiant flights were ended by mechanical failure. Allegiant acknowledged its poor track record in response to earlier Times reporting, vowing to improve. The FAA, though, still did not take action.

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In another incident, an Allegiant pilot was fired for ending a flight and evacuating passengers after he smelled smoke in the cabin. The pilot has sued Allegiant over the firing, but the FAA did not review the incident.

The Times report lays much blame for the FAA’s apparently lax oversight on a steady stream of officials who leave the regulator to go to work for airlines.

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