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Senator: DOT watchdog should investigate FAA’s handling of Allegiant Air

WASHINGTON – A key member of the Senate panel that oversees airlines called for an investigation Monday about how the Federal Aviation Administration handled safety concerns at Allegiant Air.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., asked the Transportation Department’s inspector general to investigate FAA’s handling of safety issues at Allegiant. The CBS program 60 Minutes reported Sunday that Allegiant had more than 100 mechanical issues from January 2016 to October 2017.

“The traveling public deserves to know whether the FAA is conducting thorough safety oversight of Allegiant,” wrote Nelson, the top Democrat on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “Anything less could lead to disastrous consequences.”

The FAA wrote a letter April 11 to CBS News explaining its oversight of Allegiant and noting that there have been no fatal crashes of U.S. passenger airlines since 2009.

Because of pilot-labor issues in 2015, FAA moved up Allegiant’s 2018 evaluation for its certificate to fly passengers to 2016. The review didn’t find “any systemic safety or regulatory problems,” although it did identify “a number of less serious issues, which Allegiant addressed.”

“The FAA is vigilant in scrutinizing the operations of all airlines and is prepared to act on new information brought to its attention from data, from inspectors’ observations and findings, and from any reliable source about any carrier at any time,” said the letter from Ali Bahrami, FAA associate administrator for aviation safety.

Allegiant’s vice president of operations, Capt. Eric Gust, issued a statement after the program that said the story was outdated and shows a “troubling misunderstanding” of the Federal Aviation Administration’s safety oversight of airlines.

“I want to tell you personally that I am outraged and astounded by the irresponsible, grossly misleading story aired by CBS 60 minutes,” Gust said in a statement to customers. “To you, a member of our Allegiant family of travelers, I want to be very clear: safety is at the core of every aspect of our operation, every day.”

More: Allegiant Air defends safety record after ’60 Minutes’ report

John Duncan, executive director of FAA’s flight standards service, told 60 Minutes that the agency was satisfied with steps Allegiant took to remedy its mechanical problems.

Allegiant’s stock price fell 3% to about $146 Monday. The airline is an ultra-low-cost carrier based in Las Vegas with 99 planes flying to 120 destinations.

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