Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and media must rake muck even if it’s wrong. Facts, apparently, are no longer required. The New York Times, which once proclaimed “All the news that’s fit to print,” has now switched to “All the news that fits (our preconceived notion) we print.” Last week the NYT printed a poorly researched op-ed that tried to equate GA’s safety record to the airlines—again. This follows USA Today’s so-called “investigative report” several weeks ago that cited this invalid comparison. We’ve written about this bogusity many times (a new word I just coined—derived from Bogus).
Rather than refute the NYT point by point, which AOPA President Mark Baker did immediately in a letter to the NYT editor, let’s try a different tack: News flash…GA is NOT the airlines, and the most dangerous part of the trip is the drive to the airport!
GA is not as safe as the airlines—(except where we fly multiengine, multi-crewed turbojet aircraft—that record is as good as or better than the airlines). Light GA accidents (light GA is where most of the crashes occur) result from pilots’ misjudgment/poor skill. Did the system fail or the individual? Were pilots not aware of the risks they were taking? In most cases I believe they were. Listed below is an ASI safety education program for each risk area (and in many cases there are additional safety courses, publications, videos, and case studies covering a particular risk topic). No other personal activity goes to the effort GA does, in general, and the Air Safety Institute, in particular, to lay out the risks. No other activity is as heavily regulated, and it’s almost impossible to crash without breaking some specific or common sense rule.
- VFR into IMC?—What part of cloud don’t you understand?
- Thunderstorms?—Shredded airframes and extreme upset await.
- Ice?—Most light aircraft do not fly well in it.
- Stalls?—It’s angle, not speed. Failure to understand this geometry is to not understand the essence of flight.
- Gas?—Gotta have it.
- Takeoff and landing?—Minimum safe runways lengths must include a margin well beyond what the test pilots found in certification. Try the ASI 50/50 solution.
- Weather?—It’s what you see—not what was forecast.
- Old aircraft?—Not that much of a problem, but like all things they must be maintained, and there are too many examples of shoddy maintenance and deliberate shortcuts by owners.
- Buzz jobs?—Totally dumb—’nough said!
Our fatality numbers have improved by about 40% over the last two decades—something that’s lost on media and sometimes on the regulatory authorities in the rush to do what they do. There is less flying, so the rate reduction as near as we can measure it isn’t as much—but it is lower. In comparison to other risky activities, GA losses are small and innocents are seldom involved (but let’s strive not to have any).
So why all the attention? See the opening sentence. We’re pushing back and you can too. Note the bulleted list, train regularly, and help fellow pilots understand that arrogance or ignorance is not life-prolonging.
We can do better–GA can be safer. Death and destruction are poor selling points and bad for business—this is true in motorcycles, skydiving, personal watercraft, ATV riding, skiing, and mountain climbing. But in any performance activity there is a natural accountability—something that’s missing in too much of today’s journalism, which is all about sell—not truth.
Does GA’s training system have some holes? It does. We should be, and are, working to address that. But show me any human activity that doesn’t. Risk management unfortunately doesn’t equate to risk elimination. The airlines are a business: and for a business it’s about money. But for us: it’s about being as safe as you choose to make it—your life, your passengers, and our collective reputation ride on it. Do it well!
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