Editor’s Note: Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) discussed a scathing exposé on discount airline Allegiant Air that was broadcast on CBS News’ “60-Minutes” this past Sunday. The following are his remarks on the House Floor on April 17th:
Mr. Speaker, the CBS News program “60 Minutes” devoted more than half of their show on Sunday to a seven month investigation into Allegiant Air, a low-budget airline based in Las Vegas. The segment was called “Allegiant Air, The Budget Airline Flying Under the Radar.”
According to CBS, Allegiant is one of the most profitable airlines in the U.S. and made a healthy profit for 60 straight quarters.
And up until word came out about the exposé on CBS News, its stock was doing pretty well too.
In order to reward investors while still selling seats at rock-bottom ticket prices, however, Allegiant pushes their aging, second-hand fleet of 99 outdated aircraft beyond their limits.
But hey, apparently in corporate America, profits are more important than people if, even if carrying people safely is supposed to be your business.
So far, the only thing to crash with this airline is its high flying stock price, which went down 11 percent since word of the CBS story first got out.
Because 60 Minutes documented incident after incident – more than 100 in less than 2 years – of aborted takeoffs, unscheduled landings, smoke-filled cabins, cabin-pressure loss, and other emergency situations .
A former prosecutor at the FAA with 30 years of experience says towards the end of the show that:
“You know, if, God forbid, there is an accident, I think there will be a lot of people saying, ‘Well, we knew. We knew and we did nothing.’”
Mr. Speaker, Allegiant Air is tragedy waiting to happen.
And they really should know better and we as a country should know better. Because the CEO of Allegiant was one of the founders of ValuJet.
You remember, they were another cut-rate airline that was apparently cutting corners on safety to boost their position with stockholders.
But they aren’t flying anymore because ValuJet Flight 592, with 110 people on board, plunged into the Everglades after taking off from Miami International Airport, May 11, 1996, a little less than 22 years ago.
What we learned after the fact was that the airline drove up profits, pushed its fleet to the edge, took freight in cargo holds to make extra money, and cut corners on the safety of their passengers.
And you know what happened? People died.
We have seen this movie before and it doesn’t end well.
Which leads to the very important question for Congress: Why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?
Where is the FAA? The DOT? The Committees of jurisdiction right here in the House of Representatives?
Why have there been no hearings and so little response from the federal government?
60 Minutes made a compelling case that the regulators are not doing their jobs.
Host Steve Kroft said: “Over the last three years, the FAA has switched its priorities from actively enforcing safety rules with fines, warning letters and sanctions – which become part of the public record – to working quietly with the airlines behind the scenes to fix the problems.”
This airline – Allegiant — with 3.5 times as many serious emergency incidents as other airlines might be a special case or it might be typical, but we just don’t know and the American people just don’t know. If the FAA isn’t doing a good job of making sure Allegiant Air is safe, what else are they missing at other airlines?
We ought to demand that experts inside and outside of Congress get the facts and hold people accountable.
Now I understand that the dirtiest word in the conservative dictionary is regulation, and frankly, it is not clear that the downslide in regulatory oversight happened exclusively or even more rapidly since our current businessman and TV host President took office.
But I think it is clear that following rules, being transparent and being accountable in American industry—especially the airline industry where millions of lives are at stake—ought to be a top priority.
When I sit down to dinner with my family, I want to know that the chicken and vegetables on our plates are safe to eat. My car, my gadgets, and my flight home all deserve rigorous scrutiny. I want to know that the water my grandson drinks is clean and the American people are losing confidence that the people who are supposed to be watching out for us are really watching out for us when we eat, drink, breath, travel or spend money.
There is a big drive in the Congress to cut government budgets, cut red tape, and crusade against regulation. The other side demonizes regulations almost as much as the President demonizes immigrants.
But I just want to make sure that when the federal government and this Congress are cutting budgets, we are not cutting corners that allow airplanes to fall out of the sky.
Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez is a Member of the Judiciary Committee and the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.