Maybe Pogo Was Right
From the we-are-sometimes-our-own-worst-enemy file comes two tidbits, the stolen Cirrus story and the rise of the "informed expert source."
For some reason, when general aviation is under unfavorable scrutiny, as it certainly is this week in the wake of Austin, Texas crash, we tend to make a hash of things with a second or a third blunder. On Friday, we ran a story about a stolen Cirrus SR22 that was finally corralled into a landing at Los Angeles International in the wee hours. The only redeeming thing about the incident is that it happened when most of the country was asleep. There would be considerably more hell to pay if it occurred in the middle of a busy LAX arrival push.
Details of how the airplane was stolen are still sketchy, but it doesn't look like the pilot—who was said to be incoherent—owned it or was involved with the owner or the airport. If that's true, how did he get the keys? This is not the first time a poorly secured aircraft has been stolen by a casual thief who, in all likelihood, would have been thwarted if minimal precautions had been taken, like locking the airplane and securing the keys. (Not the first time we've written about it, either.)
We have just got to do better than this. We can hardly whine about onerous regulation when we, as an industry, can't do a simple thing like secure our airplanes properly. That means locking the thing and removing the keys and/or securing the airplane in a locked hangar, when possible.
High-profile GA incidents like the two mentioned here draw out the worst in people, even within our own industry. So, like clockwork, my e-mail Friday morning included a note from a PR agent offering to "supply" someone named Pilot DJ Frost as a source to comment on the Austin crash. The agent allowed as how Mr. Frost would explain "Why the general aviation community needs a thorough security overhaul to prevent this sort of thing from happening." He would further explain the "differences between commercial and general aviation safety procedures that would shock most Americans."
I fired off an immediate e-mail to ask Frost just exactly what the hell he was talking about. No response yet. His web site laudably touts him as a hypnotist and fear-of-flying counselor. But whether he knows it or not, his PR agent is flogging him as the sort of push-button talking head source the cable networks are looking for in lieu of actual news reporting. Put him on the camera, evidently, and he'll bring the story alive with shocking revelations about security loopholes at the local muni. Or so the press release says. Kind of ironic, isn't it, that a guy who sells himself as an expert in reducing fear of flying turns right around and fans the flames of fear. That's either a conflict of interest or a killer marketing plan.
Now I am the last guy to insist that everyone in the aviation community adhere lockstep to talking points that tout the industry on only favorable terms. My view is that if what we what we do is truly at odds with the public interest, we ought to own up to it and fix it. But there is no "shocking" loophole in GA security and even the TSA admits as much. DHS's Richard Skinner was quoted widely as saying "general aviation presents only limited and hypothetical threats to security."
Unfortunately, the Austin tragedy wasn't hypothetical, but it also doesn't remotely threaten the Republic. Anyone involved in aviation at any level knows this, including, I would hope, Pilot DJ Frost. One hopes he'll stick to hypnotism. (And also get a smarter PR agent. He sent the same trolling press release offering ugly revelations about GA to AOPA.)
If there's anything shocking, that would be it.