Pilots poised to leave Allegiant Air

Posted at 9:00 PM, May 04, 2016

Allegiant Air has been rocked by a new scandal.

Pilots poised to flee in search of safer skies and a better work environment.

Las Vegas-based KTNV's Darcy Spears has been investigating Allegiant for nearly a year. She reports why hundreds of pilots say they're looking to leave.

Overworked and underpaid. Flying for an airline with a bare minimum approach to maintenance and safety, which leads to avoidable emergencies. 

That's what the majority of Allegiant pilots say is forcing them out.

Teamsters Local 1224 President Daniel Wells said, "At an operation like Allegiant with all these many problems, the one last line of defense preventing a tragedy has been the incredible skill of the Allegiant pilots."

But hundreds of Allegiant pilots say they've had enough. 

This pilot satisfaction survey released Wednesday polled more than 500 captains and first officers ranging from new hires to veterans. 

More than half say Allegiant's scheduling system creates confusion and fatigue. They say their pay and benefits fall below industry standards. 

And they're fed up with the airline's failure to negotiate a contract with the Teamsters. 

On top of that, Wells says, "They lack what we would say is a safety culture."

The survey release comes just days after Allegiant's latest incident -- this time in Phoenix. 

"They had what was ostensibly a new airplane, an Airbus, have a catastrophic engine failure in the process of a go-around in Phoenix," Wells says. "Extraordinarily rare event. Something that as a professional crew member you hope you never come across in the entirety of your career."

The plane landed safely a short time later, but Wells says it's part of a culture of cutting corners on maintenance that makes pilots afraid.

"Almost half of the pilots said they will not allow their own families to fly on the aircraft. That is a stunning repudiation of the operations at Allegiant. I have never heard that before at a carrier. And that is not sour grapes. That is not to make publicity. That is a real fear that these pilots have. And the reason is because they're on the front lines and observe day in and day out the way Allegiant skimps on maintenance, pushes their aircraft."

Allegiant has experienced high pilot turnover in recent years. Citing an internal newsletter, the union says Allegiant's pilot resignation rate increased 600 percent between 2011 and 2014. 

Earlier this year, Chief Operations Officer Steve Harfst abruptly resigned. 

And KTNV obtained an internal announcement that Director of Maintenance Jesse Peek is retiring later this month.

"And I think that it's not coincidence that it's in the midst of this ongoing FAA investigation into their maintenance practices," Wells says

The Federal Aviation Administration is auditing Allegiant two years ahead of schedule. The agency says it wants to ensure Allegiant is making improvements and addressing internal issue. The FAA expects to complete their evaluation in June. 

We asked Allegiant for comment, but they refused.

Instead, they sent a statement saying, "As the safety of our passengers and crew is of the utmost importance to every single person in our company, we will not engage with a member of the media who distorts the facts and lacks objectivity."