SMS, not PR wars, is the best way to assure that Allegiant is flying safely

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The below two articles indicate that management and the pilots have taken safety to the newspapers. That’s a bad idea.

The reasons why the public opinion forum is not the proper place to address are simple:

  • Safety is not a matter of negotiation.
  • Standards are set by the FAA.
  • The air carrier is held to the highest possible degree of safety in the public interest
  • An air transport pilot is also issued a certificate and is
    • “directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft” (14 CFR §91.3(a)) and
    • “The pilot in command of a civil aircraft is responsible for determining whether that aircraft is in condition for safe flight. The pilot in command shall discontinue the flight when unairworthy mechanical, electrical, or structural conditions occur.” (14 CFR §91.7(b))

Based on those basic principles, use of safety issues in a public relations battle by management of a union is entirely inappropriate. If indeed, either certificate holder (airline or ATP) operated an aircraft in an UNAIRWORTHY condition, that would constitute a very serious violation of the FARs. A pilot, who asserts that an airplane is not safe, should refuse to fly it and equally, an airline, with knowledge that a plane does not meet standards, must not release it for flight.

Traditionally such an event, if reported to the FAA, would result in an enforcement action with likely extreme consequences to the certificate holder(s). That reactive, punitive approach is now less in vogue with the FAA and the current goal is to use one of the voluntary disclosure processes to identify the source of the problem and then, critically, to design a solution which insures that this risk does not reoccur.

ASRS, FOQA, VDRP, ASAP and a number of other programs, designed to be proactive in aviation safety, have been quite successful. To add to those data collecting mechanisms, the FAA established Safety Management System as the primary tool (now required) for reaching a higher level of safety. That discipline includes representatives of every perspective in the endeavor—management, ground handlers, passenger service staff, accountants, cabin crew, to name a few and the COCKPIT CREW.

These individuals participate in the review of the comprehensive safety risk data and any specific incidents. The SMS team then analyzes the identified risk and explores the best option(s) to assure that the reported incident is not repeated. Included in this process is an FAA representative and that person’s function has been to assure that the design solution meets the FARs and to share any best practices with others.

The self-reporting efforts have had some issues when the FAA cites an exemption to initiate an enforcement action.

SMS offers the most effective method to resolve the Allegiant pilots’ safety concerns. As the cabin crews report mechanical issues, the data intake of this method should identify that there are risks in the maintenance and operations of Allegiant. The SMS review process will then draw the views of all to assess the risk, to establish its priority and to remedy it. For example, the SMS program at United identified issues, the team created proactive responses, and the remedial work plan was announced.

That example might better serve the resolution of Allegiant’s safety issues as identified by the pilots and others. Management and union should commit to SMS as a way to assure better safety performance.


ARTICLE: Allegiant Air defends safety record amid emergency landings, cancellations

ARTICLE: Pilots Fault Allegiant on Safety as Talks Stall

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