Posted by: harrisonjones | September 17, 2011

Ground school for news media

Why can’t the news media report aviation news accurately? It’s as if some uninformed reporter filed an inane story fifty years ago, and it’s been plagiarized and repeated as the standard source since. Of course, the consistent inaccuracies occur most often when an accident occurs. Speculation begins before the smoke clears, and indictments of the airplane, the pilot, or the system are proffered immediately.  This is just a random thought, but since aviation is a huge part of our society, I would like to think that each news organization could afford to send at least one member of their staff to a local ground school for a few sessions to enhance their credibility.  

I’m not talking about becoming an expert, but just understanding a few basic terms and facts would eliminate a multitude of common errors in reporting. Defining terms such as stall, altitude, attitude, flight plan, control tower, and a few others could clear up a lot of misunderstanding. I offer a few examples and I apologize to my readers, who already know these things, but I’m trying to make a point about news media and credibility. 

1-      “The engine stalled and the airplane crashed straight into the ground.” Of course, we know that the term stall refers to the wing losing airflow over it and has nothing to do with the engine. The airplane flies just fine without an engine, it just won’t maintain altitude. A commercial passenger jet, with all engines failed, has a glide ratio of approximately three to one. From 10,000 feet it will glide 30 miles. From 20,000 feet it will glide 60 miles. I listened to a retired airline pilot (a suspicious group of people at best) try to explain this to CNN last night. He was attempting to explain accelerated stalls without much success.

2-      “The airplane was in a nose up altitude.” Enough said.

3-      “The airplane was at an attitude of 10,000 feet.” Enough said.

4-      “The pilot did not file a flight plan with the FAA.” If every pilot filed a flight plan for every flight, the size and budget of the FAA would triple. Someone should explain to the media that flight plans are generally only required for IFR flights.

5-      “The airplane was approximately 600 miles off shore when it lost contact with the control tower.” The control tower normally owns about five miles of airspace.

6-      “The pilot did not report a problem before the airplane crashed.” Let’s think about that. The pilot is a pilot, not a reporter. If he or she is up to their neck in alligators, it would follow that he or she might be more concerned with solving the problem than reporting it.  

These are but a few examples and I would be interested in hearing yours. My concern is that if the media reports aviation news with this level of credibility, then what am I to believe when I read the political or business news. I mean, if it is reported that, “According to our sources, the Senator was seen leaving the bar in the company of an attractive female goat,” what does that infer? Who was the source, and are they saying he neglected to file a flight plan or failed to report that the wing fell off?  



  1. Hey now! That goat has been a part of the family for years and she was the designated driver for that night. And its normal for certain Senators from certain upper mid central states to look upon goats fondly. Some of the state mottos even say”. From xxxxxxx state “where men are men and sheep are nervous!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: