Austin – A Brief Review

February 19, 2010 by Craig Fuller

Throughout the day I have seen a number of thoughtful comments to the perspective piece I posted this morning.

My day has been filled with discussions around what happened in Austin.  I note from the comments here that there are a wide range of views and I wanted to close this day off with just a few comments.

1.  You should know from the moment this story broke, our team at AOPA has been communicating with the media.  We provided background and perspective as the story was developing and as we were all learning the facts.

2.  A number of interviews have been conducted yesterday and today, including a live interview I did today on FOX NEWS and a second interview on CNN.  We found the coverage around these interviews to be fair.  We did these today as the media turned from covering a fast breaking news story to sorting out what it all means.

3.  While we were briefing the media from our Frederick headquarters, our Washington office immediately began briefing Members of Congress and their staff.  We want those who feel “something must be done” to understand that we are already very regulated and that the use of aircraft in commiting suicide in extremely rare.

4.  Now, with regard to the use of terms….suicide is what this was.   An individual took his own life using an aircraft.  Some of the comments on the AOPA NOW blog want to debate the use of terms.  Sorry, this is not productive.  I am not sure just where people want to go with the description of this unusual and isolated event, but we wanted to be clear just how we viewed this event and what we thought it should be called.

5.  As for those who assume this means more regulation, I do not that think this will be the case.  There are no regulations that would have prevented a person so determined to end his life in an aircraft from doing just that.  And, the point made in the posting this morning is that while suicide attempts number in the hundreds of thousands, the use of an aircraft in such acts is very rare…less than twice a year on average…I might add, this was something that news organizations found significant.

As the day ends, this story which involved a deeply troubled person and a tragedy that took two lives is being treated for what it is by most of the media organizations we have spoken with as well as officials in government. 

Our job was to make sure that AOPA members were well served through professional media relations efforts and government relations efforts.  I am pleased with the fine work that dozens of people did over the past 36 hours. 

As always, I appreciate the words of praise and carefully consider the constructive suggestions.  This was not the first and certainly not the last time careful consideration will be required during a difficult situation.  I do appreciate the feedback and the level of engagement from all who shared their thoughts during the course of the day.

  • Steve Shonkwiler

    The security of aviation is not at fault here. While this was a pilot and aircraft owner that comitted this crime, it could have been anyone. Remember the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in 1995? Had Mr Stack not been a pilot he would have filled an SUV or RV, or rented U-Haul truck with explosives and done the same thing he did with an airplane. No amount of additional security checks on general aviation wil detect a pilots intentions when he is going flying. As a group we should be commended on protecting aviation saftey, but we must remember that “safe” is not the same as “accident free”. It is impossible in a free society to stop all incidents of this kind.

  • Howard Kave

    While I am in general agreement with your view of this tragedy and of AOPA’s approach to date, I am sympathetic with the objections that some members have raised to the linguistics of your initial posting. You, as much if not more than most, have spent a life time learning that words do count and that the use, or misuse, of a single word can dramatically change the perception of any event.
    I have long been troubled by the insistence by some public speakers of referring to those who strap bombs to their bodies that they detonate in public settings as “homicide” bombers. Yes, of course, the intent of these villians is homicide, the intentional taking of one human life by another. However, these people are not merely commiting multilple murders for, at the same time, they sacrifice their own liives.
    We can comdemn both acts as wrong; however we should not pervert our language to ignore the intentionally symbolic act of any human who, however motivated, sacrifices his or her life to any cause by our arrogant refusal to acknowledge that the murderer also kills himself. These folks, be they terrorists or patriots (a poltical distinction in most cases) are, in fact, commiting suicide, whiich is a particular specie of homicide and it tortures the English language to ignore that fact solely for political reasons. Your posting takes a similar approach, but in the opposite direction. Mr. Stack killed himself, to be sure. However, a purely suicidal flight could have been accomplished with a dive into terrain in some isolated area without risk to human life other than that of the pillot. It has been done before and when it has, few have called for stricter regulation of general aviation. Whether this man was mentally ill or just very angry, he apparently intended the deaths of other persons in that building and targeted them in all likliehood because the worked for the IRS. We cannot deny that perception and thereby hope that the public will see it that way too; they won’t. It does us no good to run from that fact and insist that this was merely a suicide. It was a suicide, however it was also murder.
    Having said that I believe that no additonal regulation could possibly prevent a recurrence and there will undoubtedly be a recurrence some day. Here in NYS, the Penal Law defines the term “weapon”, among other things, as any object or implement when used to cause injury or death to another. It can be a brick, a screwdriver, a frozen turkey, a feather pillow, an automobile, or, in fact, an aircraft. We can never reasonably hope, by law, to prevent a sufficently motivated person from using any vehicle as a weapon. Nor should we even try. As we have already learned, just beacuase a risk exists does not create a threat.
    We can try to defend against threats, but can never eliminate risk and continue to function in a “free” society.
    The only reason that the goverment might even try is that there are so few of us. THAT is why we need AOPA.
    The truth is the best weapon that we have and we must use it, consistently, and relentlessly.
    Good luck and let us know what we can do to help.
    Howard Kave, ASN/MGJ/NY

  • Mike Barbee

    Although I understand that AOPA would prefer to simply proclaim this event as a “suicide”, I think it is becoming clearer and clearer that this individual intended to cause damage to the IRS building and it’s inhabitants. That is more than “an individual (taking) his own life using an aircraft”. The public knows this all too well, and it is disheartening for Mr. Fuller to continue to insist this was simply a suicide. I truly believe AOPA comes off as disingeniuous by insisting that is all this event was. No doubt the familities of those hurt and the family of the other fatality in this “suicide” don’t view it as such. Further, for me, this isn’t a question of semantics but rather cuts to the core of our credibility. Does AOPA see the world for how it is or how we’d like it to be? So far, unfortunately, it appears the view is pretty rosy from Frederick. AOPA 05956547

  • Robert Mendela

    Regardless of the fact that an airplane was used in the commission of these deaths and property destruction, it is clear to me and I suspect to most others that this act is akin to the many murder/suicides we see every day in the news. Some of these are effected by cars, guns, knives, fire, bare hands, etc. It is known that suicidal persons can easily turn their wrath outward and have done so over the years. Rather than insist that folks see this simply as a suicide, it makes sense to me to simply present the facts about GA as you are doing as well as noting GA’s safety record. GA has as many regs around it as a schoolbus, yet the buses aren’t being taken off the road. The article about the use of the word terrorism in Glen Greenwald’s column today [2/20] in seems worth reading as being related to AOPA.s concerns.

  • Nickolaus Leggett

    Hello Craig,

    Thank you for your excellent service to general aviation.

    Keep up your great work.

  • Sandy St.John

    Anyone, anywhere can use common everyday machines to kill and create havoc. Whether it’s planes, or Ryder trucks, any vehicle can be used for evil. We are all responsible for our own actions. As horrible as this crime was, if rational thinking citizens allow the government to start regulating our lives to preempt or prevent every evil act from happening, then personal freedom will be a thing of the past. I would rather have to put up with a few crazies in the world than have a big government “baybysitter” telling me and everybody else that, “for our own protection”, certain things can’t be allowed anymore. We do not need a “nanny state”!

  • Michael Sheridan

    AOPA, in spinning this as a simple suicide is giving aid and comfort to terrorists.