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?
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. firstname.lastname@example.org
Rob Mark, editor
January 8, 2011
Mr. James Bennet, Editor
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
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.
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