Biz Av Takes One on the Chin

By Robert Mark on January 9th, 2011

Sometimes I think we have only ourselves to blame for this kind of publicity. Business aviation seems to still enjoy that low profile, even since the chaos of the Big Three auto guys denying their companies actually owned airplanes, much less used them.

But the January/February issue of The Atlantic carried a first story in its Dispatches section, a piece by Jeffrey Goldberg called, “Private Plane, Public Menace.” Guess what that was about? atlantic jetwhine

Goldberg was lucky enough to hitch a ride aboard a friend’s business jet from Teterboro back to Dulles one evening. My guess is that after what Goldberg wrote about the experience, he won’t be invited back. His perspective explained that business aviation is completely insecure and that as soon as the Al-Qaeda boys figure it out ( which they will thanks to Goldberg of course), biz av-high jackings will begin en mass.

There is simply no way I could let the writer’s use of the word “menace,” or the phrase “How long until Al-Qaeda does the same,” stand unchallenged. The text of my Letter to the Editor, as well as NBAA CEO Ed Bolen’s are pasted below.

I urge all to send The Atlantic’s editor James Bennet your two cents and tell him just how far out in left field one of their senior writers is on this one. letters@theatlantic.com

Rob Mark, editor

______________________________________________

January 8, 2011

Mr. James Bennet, Editor

The Atlantic

600 New Hampshire Ave. NW,

Washington, DC 20037

Dear Mr. Bennet:

I’ve been a business aviation pilot and writer most of my life. While I respect Jeffrey Goldberg’s talents as a writer too, in his story, Private Plane, Public Menace, he’s just flat wrong. The piece shows – by Mr. Goldberg’s own admission – his inexperience with business aviation. Honestly, business aviation tends toward a low public profile in transportation, sometimes to their own detriment.  We’re not often surprised then that people don’t understand this segment of transportation very well. But let’s set the record straight here.

The fact that Mr. Goldberg doesn’t believe he was thoroughly vetted before he climbed aboard the airplane, doesn’t mean some security-focused action didn’t occur behind his back. As a business jet captain for many years, the cardinal rule has not changed … we never carry people we don’t know personally, or who have been vouched for by someone we trust. I know of no private jet operator that does anything different.

The reason business aviation continues to be self-regulated is that the system works. But that doesn’t mean business aviation is not open to competent TSA scrutiny. Safety of passengers, crew and the people on the ground has always been our MOST important concern. We just want to make certain the TSA doesn’t impose some absurd regulation on business aviation that destroys the flexibility of our system to countermand a non-existent threat. A business jet has never been hijacked, while airliners have, quite a few times. A pop-up Al-Qaeda operative on a business airplane … oh please! And one more thing your research could have shown … the majority of people who travel aboard private jets are not wealthy individuals, but middle and upper management types.

Opinion pieces in The Atlantic that question the status quo are fine, but like the security concerns about which Mr. Goldberg frets, his text should have been vetted with a little research to remove words like “menace” where one does not exist. How about a question mark after menace at least, to indicate the outcome is still on the table? I expected better from your magazine

Robert P. Mark, CEO CommAvia, Evanston, IL

And the letter from NBAA …

Letters to the Editor

The Atlantic

Dear Editor:

Your story, “Private Plane, Public Menace,” (Jan/Feb 2011) will certainly grab readers attention, with its sensationalist characterization of security for general aviation, which refers to all aviation outside the airlines or military.

However, your readers deserve to know that a host of initiatives to harden general aviation against terrorist threats have long since been welcomed by industry, put into place, and are well understood by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials and others in government.

For instance, general aviation pilots and aircraft owners are vetted against terrorist watch lists, and pilots are required to hold tamper-proof ID issued by the government. Charter aircraft with a maximum certificated takeoff weight (MCTW) of 12,500 pounds or greater, as well as aircraft with MCTW greater than 100,309 lbs. or with a passenger seating configuration of 61 seats or more are covered by specific federal security requirements, including for the larger aircraft, baggage and passenger screening prior to boarding. Foreign citizens seeking certain types of flight training in the U.S. undergo fingerprint-based background checks prior to training. An Airport Watch program, with a toll-free number, is in place for reporting suspicious activity to federal security officials.

The U.S. Treasury Department monitors the parties involved in aircraft buying and selling for security.

With the industry’s full participation and cooperation, these are among the many measures undertaken to harden general aviation against security threats. In fact, contrary to your writers assertion, we in general aviation have long prioritized security, and have worked effectively with government officials to implement measures that enhance security without needlessly sacrificing mobility. The industry will continue working with federal officials to evaluate further enhancements, and help TSA put resources where they can be best utilized.

Sincerely,

Ed Bolen

President and CEO

National Business Aviation Association

Obviously we business aviation people still have quite a bit of public education outreach ahead of us.

Rob Mark, Editor

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8 Responses to “Biz Av Takes One on the Chin”

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  3. dmanuel Says:

    Perhaps he will follow up with ‘Private Truck, Public Menace’ and write about the (Ryder) rental trucks that were used in the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City and at the (1993) World Trade Center. From there, maybe he could expand into SUVs or Vans as used in Times Square and Portland Oregon.

  4. Rob Mark Says:

    Interesting point you make about Ryder Trucks. Not long after 9/11 I made the point to someone here in Chicago that anyone could easily drive an 18-wheel tanker to the base of the Sears Tower and blow it like they did in OKC.

    Today, they still can.

    I hope the Al Qaeda guys don’t read this blog.

  5. Evan Baach Says:

    I’ve been an avid follower of your Jetwhine blog.

    I’m amazed that Mr. Goldberg would have the nerve to publish an article like that. We all know that sensationalism sells advertising, but he definitely crossed some boundaries. As an airline pilot who witnesses the TSA “security theater” on a daily basis, I know that there are flaws in the system. However, to write and publish un-researched “security” concerns is both self-serving and an abuse of his position as a reporter.

    Looks like he’s had his last flight with free candy and Evian.

    Cheers,

    Evan Baach

  6. Eric Basile Says:

    I agree. What a hatchet job. I hope they are overwhelmed with letters, but expect little in the way of clarification. This kind of exaggerated fluff sells magazines.

  7. Jonathan Oaks Says:

    You know, it behooves private operators of business jets, and businesses aviation departments to maintain security in their operations, knowing that any adverse action or issue caused by their own hand (concerning security of their operations vis a vis terrorist activities and even other security issues) is to their demise. Businesses wish to maintain and increase their profitability, and lax security goes against that desire. Yet, it’s fools like Mr. Goldberg and his knee-jerk reaction to ONE flight that are allowed to print their very narrow opinions, that then take wings and color every other industry, but especially to attempt to take down the entire general aviation industry.

    Maybe the fool Goldberg would like to write a knee-jerk reactionary article about the façade of “security” our federal government pushes on us, which is simply treating a symptom and not the disease—the disease being that of Islamic terrorism that threatens us much more so than little old ladies carrying, heaven forbid, more than three ounces of hairspray, and even more so, private businesses wishing to forego the hassle of commercial air travel.

  8. Jeff Boatright Says:

    We could write to James Fallows at The Atlantic, asking him to walk across the hall and give Jeffrey the raspberry for us. In my experience it won’t do much good, though. Most of the writers over at The Atlantic never let facts get in the way of a selling narrative. Fallows has called out his fellow contributors more than once for ineptitude and worse, but it falls on deaf ears. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”–Upton Sinclair.

    (Fallows is a private pilot and uses his plane for various purposes in his professional and personal life, often with bits and pieces sneaking into his Atlantic essays.)

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