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Allegiant and FAA trying to calm fears after '60 Minutes' report

SOUTH BEND, Ind -- Discount airline Allegiant Air is under fire after a bombshell CBS News investigation on Sunday night's "60 minutes" revealed serious safety concerns. The report found that the airline had more than 100 serious mechanical issues between January 2016 and October 2017.

Right now at South Bend International Airport you can catch a direct flight with Allegiant  to several destinations including Tampa, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Fort Meyers and Orlando -- all major vacation destinations. With summer just around the corner, this report has some customers worried.

With fares as low as $49 Allegiant air has become a popular choice for people traveling on a budget. That popularity is showing up in the company's earnings.

According to Allegiant's website, the company has turned a profit for 60 consecutive quarters -- even with rising oil costs.

The '60 Minutes' investigation questioned whether those profits were coming at the expense of passenger safety.

The investigation claimed FAA documents show the airline's fleet of 99 airplanes had more than 100 serious incidents in a 22 month period -- including 25 engine failures.

During that time Allegiant was still using more than 50 of the aging McDonnell Douglas MD80's, according to the company's quarterly report. As of the second quarter of this year they are down to 27, by next quarter it will be 19 and the hope is to have all MD80s out of the air by the end of the year. They are transitioning to a unified fleet of the more modern AirBus. 

During a Facebook live we asked some of our viewers if they've experience problems on allegiant.

Lori Singer says, "I've flown with Allegiant several times. I never had an issue. I thought they were great!"

Eileen Guyton, "We experienced an emergency landing coming home from Vegas. Smoke in the cabin. We had to turn around and wait on another plane. That was several years ago. The last time I took Allegiant we flew in a new Airbus... it was nice!"

The airline is in the process of upgrading its fleet to all AirBusses, but there are still several MD-80 planes that the company bought used.

In a letter to customers, Vice President of Operations, Captain Eric Gust called the '60 minutes' report "grossly misleading".

"It has come to our attention that the 60 minutes story was instigated by a terminated employee currently involved in a lawsuit seeking money damages from the company," said Gust. "Incidents referenced are years old, and took place before our most recent, comprehensive FAA audit. The story breaks no news"

The FAA backed up that statement releasing this letter it sent to CBS News dated April 11.

The letter said, "In 2016, we moved up Allegiant's 2018 scheduled review, known as a certificate holder evaluation process. This review did not find any systemic safety or regulatory problems, but did identify a number of less serious issues, which allegiant addressed."

The FAA says it has done regular safety evaluations with Allegiant since the audit, as it does with all airlines, and hasn't uncovered any major problems.

The letter went on to say, "Had we identified such problems, the FAA would have taken immediate action".

Officials at South Bend International Airport have declined to comment on the '60 Minutes' report.

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