Andrew Levy’s rise at Allegiant can be traced partly to his experience at the now-defunct ValuJet Airlines in the 1990s.
That is where he met industry heavyweights and experienced – first-hand – the crash of ValuJet flight 592, which plummeted into the Florida Everglades in May 1996, tragically killing 110 passengers and crew.
A fire in the cargo hold – ignited by chemical oxygen generators – caused the crash. A contract maintenance provider, failures at the US Federal Aviation Administration and ValuJet who were found not to have overseen maintenance properly were blamed, but Levy says: “The reality is we grew too fast.”
“We went from zero to 53 airplanes in two-and-a-half years,” he adds. “When you grow that fast you are bringing in people so fast that you can’t control your culture really.” That is a lesson that Levy says has Allegiant taken very seriously.
“We have gone from one to 65 airplanes in 12 years. Its very consciously a different pace,” he says.
Among his ValuJet colleagues was co-founder Maurice Gallagher, who is now Allegiant’s chief executive.
Levy says Gallagher is a long-time student of Southwest Airlines, and the two have tried to resplicate aspects of the fellow low-cost carrier’s success at Allegiant.
“Everything in Southwest’s business was built to handle growth of 10% to 15% a year,” Levy says. “We’ve tried to emulate them in that respect.”