ST. PETERSBURG — The CEO of Allegiant Air, the spunky budget airline that has pushed St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to record passenger traffic, received the Tony Jannus Award Thursday.
Maurice Gallagher Jr. is the 52nd recipient of the award, which is presented by the Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society every year to recognize high achievement in commercial aviation.
Gallagher, "beyond delivering more than a million annual passengers here to our region, is uniquely qualified based on his outstanding service to the aviation industry," said Chris Minner, Tampa International Airport's vice president of marketing. "Mr. Gallagher is responsible for delivering 52 consecutive quarters of profit for Allegiant ... which is truly remarkable."
Gallagher, 65, took the airline out of bankruptcy in 2000 and grew it from one plane flying one route to become one of the most-profitable in the world. But the company's pilots have accused the Las Vegas-based airline of cutting corners on aircraft maintenance in pursuit of profit. During the summer, Allegiant was plagued by a series of emergency landings and other incidents calling into question, pilots say, its safety.
Three of those emergency landings were at St. Pete-Clearwater in June and July.
Gallagher told the Tampa Bay Times after a Tony Jannus news conference at the St. Petersburg Museum of History that he thought the media attention on his airline was unfair.
"I think the press has overdone things," he said. "I think there's a misunderstanding of things. It may come through a bit one-sided. But that's the world we live in."
The pilots' union is currently negotiating a contract with Allegiant, and the union has said those talks are at an impasse. But Gallagher said he still thinks a deal can be worked out. He denied an assertion by pilots that he is anti-union.
"I'm supporter of our workers, our pilots," Gallagher said. "Those are the people working for me. Organized labor is a requirement in this country. We are law abiders. We will uphold that. We want to work with our crew members. We want to get a deal. They've elected a union representative. And we will work with those guys."
During the news conference, Gallagher said he appreciated receiving the Jannus Award.
"I've been 30 some years doing this business I love, pushing airplanes through the skies, trying to put enough butts in the seats as we like to say on the marketing side," he said.
He said Allegiant's low fares allow people who have not flown to enjoy travel that might not otherwise be open to them.
"It works both ways, too," Gallagher said. "We make money on it. We have to. It's been a great run."
The Tony Jannus Award is named for the pilot who flew an airboat from St. Petersburg to Tampa on Jan. 1, 1914. The 23-minute, 21-mile flight over Tampa Bay is considered the birth of commercial aviation.
Allegiant has flown about 22 million people to and from Florida in the 10 years it has had a presence in the state. The airline flies to 107 cities overall with a business model that links tourists from mid-sized cities either under served, or not served at all by other airlines. It flies passengers to vacation destinations like Florida, Las Vegas and Hawaii.
St. Pete Clearwater expects to fly a record 1.6 million passengers by the end of the year, 96 percent on Allegiant.
The Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society was established in 1964 by the Tampa and St. Petersburg chambers of commerce to honor Jannus.
Contact William R. Levesque at email@example.com. Follow @Times_Levesque.