The low-cost carrier Allegiant Air is facing nationwide scrutiny following a "60 Minutes" investigation that is raising significant safety concerns. The investigation echoes many of the findings FOX5 has uncovered over the past year related to mechanical issues and canceled flights reported by the airline.
Investigators with the news program found that between Jan. 1, 2016 and October 2017, the Las Vegas airline experienced more than 100 serious mechanical incidents, including aborted takeoffs, rapid descents, flight control malfunctions and midair engine failures.
More than a year's worth of Federal Aviation Administration reports for Allegiant and seven other airlines show that the carrier was on average nearly three and a half times more likely to have a midair breakdown than Delta, United, American, Spirit, or JetBlue. So far, Allegiant has not disputed that part of 60 Minutes' report.
Passengers recount stories from mid-air
Last August, Brenda Wagner told FOX5 she had experienced mechanical issues on three Allegiant flights over a span of two days. The first two planes never left McCarran International Airport. The third flight was in mid-air when she heard a loud "thunk."
"You know how when you drop, your stomach goes out from under you? That was going on," Wagner said. "It's only going to take one time to really screw up and you're going to kill a bunch of people."
Wagner said the plane started losing altitude and veered to the left. She smelled what she thought might be hydraulic fluid. The plane landed back at McCarran. Wagner never received an explanation, and she was too afraid to board a fourth plane to see her mother-in-law.
"They just diagnosed her with Alzheimers so we wanted to spend some time with her while she could still know who we are," Wagner said.
Across the country, "60 Minutes" heard very similar stories.
"There was smoke in the cabin and fire coming out of the engine, and I just remember thinking that I would never see my daughter again," passenger Mercedes Weller told "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft.
Cancellations, maintenance issues, passenger thefts
FOX5 was the first to report that Allegiant had to cancel or reschedule 11 flights out of Las Vegas over the span of a single weekend because of mechanical issues.
Customer Brian Donnellan did not have his flight rescheduled. He said he was supposed to fly to Santa Rosa, California on Saturday when his flight was canceled.
Donnellan's scheduled trip was the final scheduled Allegiant flight to ever go to Santa Rosa. He said the cancellation forced him to rent a car and drive home to be with his family.
Sunday, July 30Santa Rosa, California (not rescheduled) Casper, Wyoming (rescheduled) Cincinnati, Ohio (rescheduled) Tri-Cities, Washington (rescheduled) Fresno, California (rescheduled)
Monday, July 31Bellingham, Washington (rescheduled) Fresno, California (rescheduled) San Antonio, Texas (rescheduled) Eugene, Oregon (rescheduled) Laredo, Texas (rescheduled) Wichita, Kansas (rescheduled)
"60 Minutes" referenced the difficulties of that weekend while questioning John Goglia, who has more than 40 years of experience in the aviation industry, including nine years as a presidential appointee to the National Transportation Safety Board.
"You think that's a big red flag? Yeah. Something's wrong," Goglia told "60 Minutes." "I have encouraged my family, my friends and myself not to fly on Allegiant."
60 Minutes was unable to speak to any Allegiant Air pilots. Daniel Wells, the president of Teamsters Union 1224 which represents pilots from Allegiant, said that is not a coincidence.
"They can't because they know that they would be terminated. At the very least, disciplined. And that's just for speaking up about concerns. So I have to speak on their behalf," Wells told "60 Minutes."
Last year, Allegiant Air flight attendants picketed outside McCarran International Airport while on strike.
"We have a lot of maintenance issues. We have a lot of delays," one employee told FOX5.
FOX5 also uncovered a ring of employees arrested on suspicion of stealing items out of Allegiant passengers' bags. The employees worked for an Allegiant Air subcontractor, Worldwide Flight Services. Police said the employees sold items, like guns and luxury handbags, to a pawn shop.
"60 Minutes" questions FAA investigation
During his interview with "60 Minutes," Wells said Allegiant pilots have been discouraged from reporting safety issues and concerns. He also criticized the FAA for not enforcing safety rules with the airline, despite more than 100 serious mechanical incidents over a span of 22 months.
Allegiant said it is "offensive" to imply the company would ask anyone to operate an unsafe aircraft. The FAA said it found dozens of issues and violations in its last review of Allegiant, but never anything serious enough to warrant enforcement against the company.
"In 2016, we moved up Allegiant's 2018 scheduled review, known as a Certificate Holder Evaluation Process (CHEP). This review did not find any systemic safety or regulatory problems, but did identify a number of less serious issues, which Allegiant addressed," wrote FAA associate administrator Ali Bahrami. "The FAA has zero tolerance for intentional, reckless behavior, flagrant violations, or refusal to cooperate in corrective action by air carriers."
FOX5's review of the 2016 CHEP documents show approximately 47 issues with Allegiant Air, 20 of which involve issues with training protocols.
Allegiant also sent FOX5 a statement from Captain Steven Allen, who identified himself as a pilot who has worked with Allegiant for four years.
"I can say with confidence that if I ever felt the aircraft was not 100% safe, I would make my concerns known and feel confident I would not be reprimanded for doing so," he wrote. "My family flies on Allegiant often, frequently with me as their Captain. I certainly would not fly my own family if I had any concerns."
Loretta Alkalay, who spent 30 years at the FAA, told 60 Minutes she would never fly with Allegiant.
"People believe that if they hold a certificate and they're flying, the FAA is on it," she said.
"But the FAA is not on it you say?" Kroft asked.
"It does not appear they are on it when it comes to Allegiant," Alkalay responded.
Copyright 2018 KVVU (KVVU Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.