It happens again and again: Reporters get major aviation topics totally wrong: Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) responded to a USA Today article - written by reporter Thomas Frank. This extremely flawed article paints a misleading picture about the safety of general aviation: It gets the general aviation safety record wrong, it ignores efforts by the industry to make general aviation safer and it violates basic tenets of fairness and accuracy when it comes to good journalism.
This story leads one to believe that general aviation is an unsafe form of transportation, but in truth, general aviation has demonstrated significant progress in safety. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the number of fatalities has declined by over 40 percent since the early 1990s. Of course mentioning that sort of fact would have undermined Mr. Frank’s narrative; you won’t find those statistics in his piece.
Facts are: The general aviation is enveloped by a robust safety system that is more extensive than any other recreational activity in the United States. This system addresses everything from aircraft certification to pilot training, aircraft maintenance and flight operations. This results in a general aviation system that provides for 21 million flight hours annually while carrying 170 million passengers per year safely and efficiently.
Numbers don't lie: In comparison to other forms of recreational transportation, the annual number of fatalities for general aviation is about 30 percent fewer of that of the recreational boating industry, and not even 10 percent of motorcycles.
The general aviation business community – and AOPA - have been pro-active and aggressive in seeking solutions by pressing the FAA to make it easier and more affordable for new technology and safety-enhancing equipment to be installed in the existing fleet of 209,000 general aviation aircraft.
Example: In 2013, the general aviation industry, including airplane and equipment manufacturers and operators, provided the FAA with extensive recommendations which, when implemented, will expedite the process for the development, certification, introduction and installation of safety- enhancing equipment on existing and new aircraft. The FAA has begun the implementation of these recommendations and needs to ensure that all of the recommendations are acted upon.
Furthermore, President Obama has signed the Small Airplane Revitalization Act into law, directing the FAA to implement the recommendations by December 2015. That, too, was omitted from Mr. Frank’s story, though AOPA and others spoke extensively with him about it.
The sloppy reporter Frank stuck with the flawed idea that aircraft certified years ago, but manufactured today, are inherently unsafe. Aircraft manufacturers and the general aviation industry make changes and install safety enhancing upgrades to existing aircraft on a regular basis. It is the goal of the general aviation industry to continually evaluate and evolve our already robust safety system.
Hit and run activist journalism? It is clear that Mr. Frank could make no space in his lengthy article for evidence of progress - evidence laid out in an hour-long discussion AOPA had with him. Including this information would have undermined his misplaced notion that general aviation is unsafe.