Bloggers Play a Significant Role in Aviation Media

By Robert Mark on July 23rd, 2013

Every aviation blogger I’ve ever met is certain they possess a magic grasp on their own little corner of the industry, which is of course why we all do what we do.

Some bloggers are just better writers than others, or better marketers of their magazines or are simply luckier than the rest … maybe even some combination of all three. We offer a look at some aspect of the industry the mainstream media either doesn’t see or believes no one cares much about in general aviation, the airlines, business aviation and safety. Then of course, there are the aviation stories the mainstream media simply don’t understand too.

There is a black hole in new media though since anyone can hang out an “expert” shingle. Honestly, some industry speculators are really lousy at explaining anything, not to mention just plain wrong at times. A growing number of aviation netizens have started getting cranky lately when any of us new-media types start trying to educate the media about aviation and I think that’s a mistake.

Asiana

As a kid who earned his pilot certificates in the general aviation world before moving on to bigger iron, I’m always excited when the mainstream media contacts me for an explanation or opinion because they’re already acknowledging they don’t have all the answers, but want them. Often it’s something simple like translating aviation speak into a language the other 99% of the people in America can understand. Other topics are more serious, like a few weeks ago after the Asiana 777 accident in San Francisco. Reporters and producers called in search of someone to help make sense out of an industry they understand little about, not to mention explaining the facts as they emerged that weekend. And certainly in the Asiana accident, the NTSB made my job easier by releasing facts as they appeared early in the process.

Jail the Speculators?

I see my media sessions as a chance to give something back to people who want to know more … people who often have no more connection to aviation than buying a seat on an airliner or watching the trainers fly patterns at their local airport. I certainly have no allegiance to any particular network, which is why my mug was plastered around quite a bit on Fox News, NBC and CNN after the SFO accident. On the radio, calls came in from WGN Radio in Chicago, WLW from Cincinnati and WTMJ in Milwaukee. I found all the hosts bright and cordial and all needed the same thing … to help their viewers and listeners understand aviation by adding the perspective of someone who flies, teaches and writes about the industry.So why so much Internet chatter about the “speculators” as they started calling us social-media geeks and why now more than in previous accidents? The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) sent out a news release taking the NTSB to task for releasing details they said the feds should have held closer. I asked them to better explain their worries but they never responded. For the first time I even found a few nasty grams in my Inbox that weekend telling me to shut the heck up. Thankfully a long-time Jetwhine reader dove in to some of the chaos to explain the difference between a “speculator” and an “educated speculator” (thanks for that Valerie).

As a guy who has been teaching people to fly for 35 years I have an answer all prepared … bull. If someone who has taught people to operate a variety of piston and jet airplanes over the years isn’t qualified to help a reporter make sense of all the craziness that follows an accident, then who?

Bio 2This accident around, the NTSB actually supported my efforts to offer educated opinions because they were releasing so many facts themselves. Chairman Debbie Hersman made it clear to everyone too that she’s sees her board’s role as a citizen advocacy and will do all she can to maintain as much transparency as possible.

But honestly, I don’t need the Chairman to explain that a debris field from the edge of the water scattered across the runways safety area at SFO means the airplane hit the jetty. And I don’t need much help in figuring out how hard the airplane must have slapped itself down on the runway to break the tail off before it skidded off the side and caught fire. And I had answers ready for the media when they wondered how nearly everyone got out of the airplane alive. That one is also simple …  beefy Boeing airframe AND the flight attendants.

There are only a few mainstream media these days who understand aviation and the ones I’ve spoken to are grateful for the help making their own stories more accurate. Many didn’t understand how the Asiana’s left seat pilot could be considered new even after he’d spent years in other big airplanes. What precisely is a glideslope they wanted to know … or a PAPI? What would the view out the cockpit window have looked like to the people flying the airplane? They asked how the auto-pilot and auto-throttles worked and asked me to take them step-by-step through a visual approach in a jet. All of this helps their readers and listeners understand how flying actually works. Trust me, we need that. Now if I could just get to the folks in the White House eh?

The Limits

So many question emerged quickly, like why these four pilots apparently flew a perfectly good 777 into the ground. Why was there apparently no call for action until seven seconds before the crash when someone mentioned airspeed? Why did the aircraft’s profile continue to degrade until the stick shaker activated just before impact? Why did everyone in the cockpit pretty much just sit back and wait until one second before impact to call for a go-around?

How could they not realize they were low? Or if they did, why didn’t the flying pilot take action? And if the flying pilot took no action, why didn’t the other pilots speak up or take control of the aircraft?

Luckily, I also know my own investigative limits so I’m perfectly happy leaving these questions for the NTSB to answer.

But please all you media critics, don’t tell me an experienced pilot, teacher and writer isn’t qualified to offer context to a aviation tragedy or an issue. That’s just plane stupid to me.

BTW, just when the weekend seemed to be getting the better of me one night after the rush of interviews — 18 all totaled — another journalist — Benet Wilson, now with AOPA — put this out on the wires. Five Journalists You Should have on Speed-Dial After an Aircraft Accident. I’m humbled to be noted in the company of so many other writers I respect. Graham Warwick and Guy Norris from Aviation Week, Jon Ostrower from The Wall Street Journal and Stephen Trimble from FlightGlobal.

AirVenture & #OSHbash

So fly safe, blog often and I’ll see you at AirVenture’s and @airplanista’s #OSHbash Wednesday night at 5:30 pm. Come out and meet some of the new media geeks you’ve been reading, watching and listening to. A good time will be had by all.

Rob Mark, Publisher

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6 Responses to “Bloggers Play a Significant Role in Aviation Media”

  1. John Zimmerman Says:

    Here, here, Rob. I’m not sure when speculating became a sin. Coming up with wild theories with no facts or experience to lean on is irresponsible. But making educated guesses based on NTSB-released facts, and backed up by years of experience, seems fair to me. The anti-speculation crowd seems more interested in making the accident go away than in learning from it.

  2. Mal Gormley Says:

    Thanks, Rob! Seriously, you’re doing us (other av-journalists who *don’t* get called as frequently) a huge favor.

    After being burned a few times a long time ago, I don’t do interviews with non-aviation journalists. You must have one tough hide, dude.

    Have a blast @OSH

  3. Gerry Soejatman Says:

    Dear Rob,
    As someone who’s also on the speed dial of some of the local mainstream media in my part of the world (Indonesia), I share those sentiments exactly.

    However am sure there are some media to be avoided (the ones who give us a call to get quick answers to find who’sto blame or other nasty stuff.

    Absolutely love the distinction between “speculator” and “educated speculator”…

    Regards…

  4. Renewed Pilot Says:

    Hi Rob,

    I sent out a few tweets that day praising you for your commentary. I’m very critical of aviation reporting… but, I’ll listen to your interviews anytime. Nice work.

    – Brian

  5. Bill Palmer Says:

    Rob,

    Were you really speculating or simply explaining how things work and what things mean, so that they can have a chance at understanding what then gets reported by the NTSB.

    As I understand it you weren’t “guessing” what caused the accident, just helping them understand the known facts.

    The media need experts to explain what stuff means so they don’t make fools of themselves – which they do so often when they try to report on subject of which they know virtually nothing.

    ALPA was dreaming if they though it could all be kept in the can until the investigation is done. People were accessing FlightAware and had radar/ADS-B data practically before the NTSB had a chance to look at any flight data.
    It’s a different world than when flight data recordings were a few parameters literally scratched into a metal foil.
    The world knew about this in minutes, and didn’t have to wait for the nightly news. Everybody is hungry for information, and they want it now.

    When the NTSB says the glideslope was out, the PAPI was not, the autothrottle was armed, the captain had XX hours, etc. To a reporter, this is all gibberish. If they guess what it means, 99.999% of the time they guess wrong, we know that! They, and the world, needs aviation experts to put the facts in perspective. That also keeps the armchair know-it-alls somewhat contained (sort of).

    Keep up the good work.

  6. Charles Lloyd Says:

    As a long time pilot and former captain for a major fractional aircraft provider, I am curious about what appears to be the lack of airspeed call outs by the designated pilot not flying (PNF) to the pilot flying (PF) crew member. This happened once before in the Buffalo crash where the CVR contained no comments on slow air speed.

    Our company SOPs had plus and minus limits for Vref on approaches. The PNF would announce i.e.”Vref minus 10″ and the PF must take appropriate action and respond “Correcting.” If the air speed continued to decay with no corrective action and response a second time then the PNF had the responsibility to say “I have the controls” and take immediate action.

    This seems like common sense to me to take advantage of another crew member’s observations and provide a redundant safety procedure that was not present at either Buffalo or San Francisco. However, Congress went into knee jerk mode and legislated a fix that did not address the primary Buffalo crew short coming.

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