William R. Levesque, Nathaniel Lash, and Anthony Cormier
Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air became the most profitable airline in the U.S. by relying on ultra-cheap fares and a fleet of used jets. The low-cost carrier expanded quickly, but when Allegiant’s planes began experiencing high mechanical failure rate in 2015, executives at the company adamantly denied the problem and instead blamed the media and its own pilots union. Reporters at The Tampa Bay Times used the Freedom of Information Act to gather thousands of pages of reports about airline mechanical failures from the Federal Aviation Administration, and then crosschecked this data with information from the U.S. Department of Transportation and a private aviation tracking company. The newspaper’s findings showed that Allegiant’s breakdown record was far and away worse than any other major U.S. carrier, with nearly half of its 86 planes failing at least once in midair in 2015. Reporters also showed that the FAA, which ensures that airlines are operating safely, did not fine Allegiant, subject the airline to stepped-up monitoring efforts or order a single corrective action even after the many problems surfaced. As a result of the published investigation, Allegiant’s stance shifted. CEO Maurice Gallagher Jr. acknowledged the company’s aircraft problems and announced plans to retire its aging fleet of jetliners.