Is Allegiant a Safe Airline? – Using Data to Review 60 Minutes’ Conclusions

60 Minutes recently did a piece bringing into question Allegiant’s safety practices.  It’s worth a read and a watch if you’ve yet to do so.  In this report, the 60 Minutes team makes some very bold claims regarding Allegiant:

“I have encouraged my family, my friends and myself not to fly on Allegiant.”

“But what really sets it apart from the competition is that its planes have been nearly three and a half times more likely to have serious in-flight mechanical failures than other U.S. Airlines.”

 

Based on the information provided by the FAA, it is very easy to analyze the data collected by 60 Minutes to determine if there is some context lost.  The investigation utilized the Scheduled Difficulty Reports (SDRs) filed by Allegiant and seven other airlines, according to their reporting.  All SDRs are available to the public for all U.S. airlines, as well as general aviation aircraft, which allows us to look at all incidents, their severity, and exactly where Allegiant falls in the mix.  This data is freely available in its entirety, via the FAA website, and it is where we begin our search for context in 60 Minutes’ claims

 

Is Allegiant “nearly three and a half times more likely to have serious in-flight mechanical failures than other U.S. airlines?”

 

Yes, 60 minutes is technically correct:  Allegiant did have 3.5 times the serious incident rate of other airlines, but only if you selectively choose which you count as the “other airlines.”

By reviewing the FAA SDRS database, we can quickly draw context to 60 Minutes’ claim.  While 60 Minutes limited their search to eight airlines (seven plus Allegiant) we do not have such limitations and can look at the entire North American airline fleet.

In short, yes, 60 minutes is technically correct:  Allegiant did have 3.5 times the serious incident rate of other airlines, but only if you selectively choose which you count as the “other airlines.”  When viewed in context, however, you see that not only is Allegiant not 3.5 times higher than all other airlines, they never even saw close to the highest serious incident rate.  Further, since a peak in 2014, the serious incident rate has been steadily falling at Allegiant, making it one of the safest airlines in Q1 2018.

Looking at the serious incident rate per departure rather than per flight hour shows a similar trend.  Because of the longer flights, Allegiant has fewer departures per hour which inflates their incident rate.  However they still were always eclipsed by airlines with a higher rate.  In fact, as of April, 2018, there were a total of 16 airlines with a higher serious incident rate than Allegiant.

The implication of this is important.  If 60 Minutes would not put their family on an Allegiant flight due to their safety record, what would they do with the 16 other airlines with worse records?

Transparency and Context

As with any analysis, data transparency is important.    The investigation limited the number of airlines to eight, and the timeline of the investigation to a very short period of just 22 months.  Those happen to be the 22 months were Allegiant saw their highest incident rate, while the lower rates before and after were not included.  Of the eight airlines analyzed by 60 Minutes, Allegiant was one, and only five others were used to make the 3.5 times claim:  Delta, United, American, Spirit, and Jetblue.  No information was provided as to the other two airlines analyzed, what their incident rate was, and why they were excluded from the study.

This led to questions of transparency from the 60 Minutes report which clued us in to some potential issues with their conclusions.  As such, in our analysis we went back 10 years and included the top 25 airlines by size to provide full transparency and context.  All airlines are U.S. registered passenger airlines, and each individual airline is shown.  However, I have anonymized each of the other airlines to prevent any other pitch forks and torches from being raised without full context, an ironic conclusion not warranted from a blog post on the importance of finding context.  One exception is the chart below, which shows the 5 airlines chosen by 60 Minutes and how they compare with the rest of the industry and Allegiant.

Comparing Apples and Service Difficulty Reports

In the report and subsequent Overtime piece about the investigation, 60 Minutes disclosed the reports they received as the Service Difficulty Reports which they received as part of a Freedom of Information Act request.  It took them 7 months to conduct the study after a long process to get the FAA and Allegiant to release the data, according to their report.  I offer no explanation as to why it took the FAA so long to release the information on the eight airlines other than to point out that it took us 2 hours to find the information on all airlines.  Speculation has suggested that making a formal Freedom of Information Act request for information that is already publicly posted on a website by an investigative journalist could raise red flags within the FAA and Allegiant and be interpreted as a hostile move.  That still would not excuse the FAA or Allegiant for objecting to the release, which seems to have escalated the tension of the story.

However, it was important that we conduct this study with the same information set handled by 60 Minutes to provide the required context.  Within the SDRs are an incredible amount of individual reports, most of which are fairly benign.  Burned-out light bulbs behind emergency exit signs found on an overnight check, or safety placards broken during a maintenance procedure are examples of the rather mundane examples of what you will find in the Service Difficulty Reports.  60 Minutes rightfully discounted those reports and limited their reporting to “we found more than 100 serious mechanical incidents, including mid-air engine failures, smoke and fumes in the cabin, rapid descents, flight control malfunctions, hydraulic leaks and aborted takeoffs.”

It was important that we conduct this study with the same information set handled by 60 Minutes to provide the required context.

We also made the same categorization, which is easy to replicate since each of those events has a specific code in the SDR.  We can also replicate the 100 number when we limit our data to the 22 months disclosed in the 60 Minutes study.  In short, making sure we were comparing the same data was important and in this case we are looking at an apples to apples comparison.

To calculate the rate per departure and hour, we pulled data from the DOT form 41 table t.2, which summarizes all flight departures, hours, miles, etc. for each of the airlines.  2018 data is limited to Q1 (January 1st – March 31st) and uses scheduled departures and hours, since final reporting is not yet out on all airlines.  It also only includes one quarter versus four quarters as depicted in all other years.  However, since it is a rate and not an absolute number, it is accurate and reflective of the incident rate so far in 2018.

Is Allegiant a Safe Airline?

At the core of the 60 Minutes investigation is the assertion that Allegiant is not safe.  The report bases this assertion on the Service Difficulty Reports, but also from anecdotes of engine failures and evacuations reinforced by emotional interviews with passengers on those specific flights.  It is important to point out that every airline has reported engine fires/failures, smoke in the cabin, aborted takeoffs, and evacuations.  This week’s tragic engine failure on the Southwest flight is a great example of how things happen even to the safest of airlines, and Southwest’s safety record is widely regarded as excellent.  Separating the individual anecdote from overall trend and context is critical, it is why Southwest is not and should not be considered an unsafe airline, and is also why Allegiant is not and should not be considered an unsafe airline.

In 2018, Allegiant is now one of the safest airlines in a country with very safe airlines.

Something happened during 2014 and 2016 to increase their serious incident rates.  It was a concern (emphasis on the past tense), however at no point was Allegiant the highest in serious incident rates, let alone “unsafe”.  In fact, in this author’s opinion, all airlines in the U.S. are safe airlines, including those with higher incident rates than Allegiant which were omitted from the 60 Minutes report.  This in no way excuses Allegiant from the maintenance challenges they saw between 2014 and 2016.  It is also worth nothing that this was during a period of intense pilot negotiations from 2014 to 2016, that resulted in lawsuits, restraining orders, and a questionable termination of a pilot who ordered an evacuation following an engine failure (again, the need for context is reminded before pitch forks and torches are raised).  But, the correlation between the elevated incident rates and pilot negotiations is just that, a correlation, and not causation.  It is Allegiant’s responsibility to ensure they are operating a safe airline regardless of other events that may be happening at the airline.  Allegiant has done this, reducing their serious incident rate by 70% since its peak;  a peak that was never the highest in the country.

Regardless, when looking at the full context and using the same methods used by the 60 Minutes investigation, Allegiant is clearly a safe airline.  In 2018, Allegiant is now one of the safest airlines in a country with very safe airlines.

Context is critical.

Would I allow my family to fly Allegiant?

Without hesitation.

 

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Courtney Miller

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Phil andersch
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Phil andersch

As usual, fake news CBS uses selected metrics that fit their “Allegiant is an unsafe airline narrative”. They should be sued by Allegiant for their defamatory, salacious misrepresentation of the facts.

Tony Anderson
Guest
Tony Anderson

I used to listen to the news and 60 minutes and think it was reputable information but now you have to figure out what is correct and who they are biasly representing. Sadly enough we are confronted with fake “news” as President Trump complains about. Sad day for the media.

Troy
Guest
Troy

Not sure if the author confused a story. The pilot who was fired for ordering the evacuation didn’t have an engine fire. There was a report from a FA of a smell of burning rubber. A post flight inspection saw nothing was wrong with the airplane, and there were no fault indications during the flight or before the evacuation. Of course all of this is being litigated, so stories are going to vary. Some say there was smoke in the cabin but that isn’t verified either. In fact it’s well a well known story through Allegiant employees from the FA’s… Read more »

Corey
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Corey

Very well written article. It’s refreshing to read unbiased news.

Gina
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Gina

Thank you for assisting the flying public to understand that w can’t rely on so called investigative reporting. What would drive 60 Minutes to sully their reputation by obscuring the whole story and making the facts for their conclusion. Thank you for your research and an unbiased look at the facts. I have flown Allegiant over 32 time since April 2014. Their convenient airports, flight times and reasonable costs have been appreciate by myself and a number of family members. I, for one, will continue to fly Allegiant.

Jack Boothe
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Jack Boothe

If Allegiant advertised more nationally with CBS I wonder if this report would have run at all? It appears that some other airlines with safety issues much more problematic than Allegiant were not profiled. I would like to see a graph comparing the advertising money spent by each of those airlines at CBS vice the amount spent by Allegiant.

Danny Allen
Guest
Danny Allen

Cool and interesting observation. I hope that ad incomedoesn’t drive their decisions.

William DeTuncq
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William DeTuncq

We now know that 60 Minutes nee CBS is an unreliable source of information. If CBS is vulnerable, I hope that Allegiant will sue, sue, sue… It goes to confirm that the media are propagandists.

Larry Reid
Guest

Perhaps CBS is entitled to a “fake news” award such as has been the exclusive label of CNN reporting… otherwise known as ratings pursuit by false, half truth or misleading headlines and stories.

anonymous
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anonymous

any thoughts on why the incident rate increased significantly in 2013 and then has been declining subsequently?

Media Junky
Guest
Media Junky

Please tell us of ANY information that was inaccurately reported by 60 Minutes.

upchucked
Guest
upchucked

The silence is deafening….. I flew Allegiant once… and Valejet once, and Tower, once …. but I wouldn’t fly them again, (Yes, I know that the last two are gone). And those who think it is fake news, remember, the graphs only show the “Reported” incidents…

Joseph M. Vallejo, Capt.Ret.
Guest
Joseph M. Vallejo, Capt.Ret.

Reference that ground incident: Not having any indication of a fire, or for that matter, an overheat, if so equipped, speaks in the direction of a possible overreaction. Reports from a cabin crew member can vary as well.The clincher is when the tower reports smoke coming out of the engine. I was not there, so I am not judging……I have learned that one a long time ago!!! i had a similar situation on the ground in a Boeing 727, but we did have an overheat light come on and we used one of the two “Firebottles”. After a while, as… Read more »

T
Guest
T

Thank you so much for doing some proper journalism and bringing this to light. I knew the 60 minutes report was full of bias, especially when they read from one of those incident reports: “Flight Instrument Malfunctions” as “Flight Control Malfunctions”. Two WILDLY different things.

jason
Guest
jason

Why would a graph that shows a bunch of squiggly lines with no labels carry any more weight than 60 minutes’ say so?

C.T.
Guest
C.T.

One only need recall the Value Jet tragedy in FL’s Everglades and the continuation of the poor care given to what followed, Allegiant, and it’s seeming use of “what ever” upkeep. Would I fly on Allegiant? Not “NO”, but “Hell No” .

mike
Guest
mike

Let me guess, the persons with the “Fake News” comments voted for trump, the king of lies and “fake news” himself.

Hector
Guest
Hector

This article has nothing to do with Trump. Can there be any kind of a discussion without throwing Trump under the bus?

trackback

[…] the claims that Allegiant’s SDR rates were significantly higher than others. His story, Is Allegiant a Safe Airline? – Using Data to Review 60 Minutes’ Conclusions, is a must-read. What you find is that 60 Minutes manipulated the data, hand-picking the airlines […]

Scott
Guest
Scott

I personally believe the spike in their “incidents” during the time period involved labor relations. The company and pilots were at war over a contract. So the pilots did, what they could do and it worked. They would cancel the flight or return/divert for something that in most other instances would have been a discretionary matter and continued flying. But it had the desired effect I think some management changes happened and they also got their contract. Mysteriously the events decreased. Granted their aging Mad Dogs we beginning to retire as they grew their Airbus fleet. So that helps. When… Read more »

Bob Mann
Guest

Comparing MD-8X series and A32X series operators, and discounting different operators’ transparency (or not) in SDR reporting (qualitative, cultural), how do those operators’ “more serious” (IFSD, ATB, O2, PRESSURIZATION, you pick ’em) raw SDR rates stack up, as close to apples to apples as can be?

BK
Guest

Good article, context and completeness are everything.”There are lies, damn lies, and statistics” Mark Twain
Stats and numbers are necessary to determine safety trends and decision making but critical thinking, context, and big picture apply as well. Thanks for analyzing and sharing.

trackback

[…] Remember the SDRs that I looked at in my 60 Minutes post? American’s rates there were low. (See more here.) That’s not the culprit. Then I learned something that gave me a […]

Joe
Guest
Joe

Great article. Can you please provide the names of the 16 other U.S. passenger airlines with a higher incident rate than Allegiant? Thank you.

Anna
Guest
Anna

Hey Courtney, I’m developing a case study of Allegiant’s response to the 60 minutes story for a class as part of my master’s degree in Communications, and stumbled across your site. I’d like to cite your article and charts, but hoping to learn a little bit more about you, your background and VisualApproach.io, if possible. Please feel free to contact me at the email address I included as part of this reply. Thanks so much!

Paul Nicholson
Guest
Paul Nicholson

It is also worth ***nothing**** that this was during a period of intense pilot negotiations from 2014 to 2016, make sure your editors do a good job.