GA – Media’s Whipping Post?

March 20, 2013 by Bruce Landsberg

flyingDoes it seem that GA has been a target lately? There have been some high profile accidents including a Beech Premier that crashed into a house in South Bend, Ind., and a Piper Cheyenne in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that apparently was attempting to return to the airport after a power failure and fell short.

Then ABC decided it was time to air a piece regarding spins that curiously had nothing to do with the accidents in question. The NTSB was also quoted, talking about GA being on the top 10 list when the number of GA fatalities is near an all-time low, and after it had dropped motorcycles from the list despite having 10 times the fatalities annually. Odd isn’t it?

With the two accidents noted above, it appears mechanical first cause is likely, but it’s a bit early for that. The pilots were doing everything they knew how to do—maybe it wasn’t perfectly executed. Perhaps it was. The ABC tie to dramatic spin footage is a stretch in relation to this story, or even to the total accident picture. Trying to tie this to a stall-spin outcome while the investigation is still in the early stages is not journalistically sound.

To reinforce a non-existent point, ABC stated that, “There are more private pilots in the air now.”  It badly overstates reality. Would that it were so.

Let’s address stalls for a moment because it is an area of concern. The Private Pilot Practical Test Standards are clear on what every private pilot should be capable of demonstrating, including maneuvering in slow flight, power-off stalls, power-on stalls, and spin awareness. In 2011 there were 11 fatal stall-spin accidents—less than one per month; a safe year. Somehow that doesn’t seem like a systemic problem to me but more of an individual failing. But one can prove almost anything with selective choice of numbers. A truer picture is that on average, there are less than two fatal stall-spin accidents per month. When spread across millions of flights annually, it just isn’t the purported epidemic.

That said, can we do better? Of course! CFIs are required to teach high angle of attack operations to assure that the pilot has the appropriate level of awareness. This is checked by designated examiners. Spin and unusual attitude training is available for anyone who wants it from a professional instructor.

The Air Safety Institute has an excellent online course which should be required viewing for all pilots to be sure they understand AOA. (It’s currently in Flash format and slated to be updated at some point, so iPad users, take heart—but not quite yet.) There is plenty of water out there for the horses to drink!!!

To the aviation community: maintain the aircraft and flying skills well.

To the media and NTSB: could we be a bit more constructive in putting GA safety into perspective? GA accidents are big news because they happen relatively rarely. We’re working very hard to see that the numbers stay small, but please keep the “piling on” to a minimum.

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Bruce Landsberg
President, AOPA Foundation

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8 Responses to “GA – Media’s Whipping Post?”

  1. Rationalist Says:

    I think the main problem is expecting a media that’s sold out to advancing liberal wealth-redistribution agendas and redefining the ideas of personal freedom to express fair and balanced reporting.

    Major network news stories nowadays are strictly for entertaining the solipsistic low information viewer.

  2. methaz Says:

    I don’t think it is constructive to try to force this into the current bipolar political narrative as “rationalist” tries in the above comment. Criticizing the news media will get GA nowhere.

    The reasons for bad reporting are a complex (fwiw, I deal with the media a lot). Critically, most modern reporters do not have any technical or scientific background. They are “storytellers”, not analysts. Their eyes glaze over at the first sign of hard numbers – and the few that do “get it”, have such a low opinion of the ability of their viewers to understand they normally won’t even try to convey them. They are looking for emotional connections to the audience – whether it makes sense or not. Facts don’t grab viewers – fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) does. It’s not a good situation, and one I don’t envy AOPA trying to counter. One way GA pilots can help is with media exposure (where appropriate) to equally emotional but positive stories – Veteran’s Airlift Command, Angel Flights, helping kids discover aviation and science, etc.

  3. karl kettler Says:

    The profile of the Ft. Lauderdale crash certainly would indicate a spin. Furthermore Spin Recovery should be a certification requirement NOT voluntary as should a host of other unusual attitudes. Pilots usuually do not seek additional training if they don’t have to.

  4. Bob McMillan Says:

    It is not just GA, it is all aviation and it is what ever the most sensational statement that the media thinks they can make. I read an article yesterday about the crash of an UAV in the Arizona desert after an engine failure. The article stated “the aircract hurtled towards the ground at more than 400′ per minute”. Sounds like a controlled glide to me, but what is the point in disputing the article? The media goes for the biggest bang they can, forget facts. When aviation has a failure, it can be pretty spectacular so the media plays it to the hilt. After all, who cares about facts?

  5. Steve Turner Says:

    According to you guys, GA is ALWAYS a target in the media (as opposed to “lately”). Per the facts as stated in your article, shouldn’t our primary beef be with the NTSB?

  6. Rationalist Says:

    “Criticizing the news media will get GA nowhere”…

    Well just where do you think it’s going now, when no one IS criticizing it…? It sure isn’t helping us any as it is…
    You’re right about them being “storytellers”, though – the news nowadays is nothing but a headline with a networks’ personal opinion and agenda-driven half-truth thrown in.

    GA and Methaz better wake up – pilots are trying to keep politics out of the equation, but the Federal Government is forcing itself into more and more of our freedoms – including our freedom to fly.

    And one more thing – don’t think that AOPA is so bent on keeping “politics” out of GA. With the article on the last page (“PILOTS”) of the March issue describing how the two pilots featured were “partners” in life, AOPA is already getting involved in a political agenda to push perverted lifestyles as being “normal”. AOPA is just as involved in the “bipolar political narrative” as anyone – unfortunately.

  7. S Force Says:

    Bruce,
    I have to agree with everyone on the comments (Except rationalist of course). Your theme of “GA is a victim of the liberal media” makes you sound like the hate radio crowd over at Fox. I am sure there is some way to be more constructive.

  8. Bruce Landsberg Says:

    All…

    Good to have an open discussion. Where I have difficulty is where there are obvious inaccuracies that are intended to mislead. Now perhaps I way too naive for today’s media melange because I believe that news and commentary need to be labeled as such. If it’s commentary – say what you’d like. If it’s news isn’t there some

    As for NTSB, we are having the discussion with them as to why GA, which inflicts relatively small injury to the traveling public and to people on the ground, merits such a high profile.

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