There are plenty of examples of bad aviation reporting in the mainstream media -- Paul Bertorelli noted one egregious one last week, all the worse for being attributed to an "aviation expert" -- but this week I ran into one of the worst mish-mashes I've seen. And even worse, when a representative of a GA advocacy group called the reporter to try to rectify it, it didn't help. It's all tangled up in one of the most misunderstood words in the aviation lexicon, when it comes to communicating with the masses -- what the meaning of "stall" is.
Here's the chain of events: A couple of weeks ago, a pilot flying a Lancair experienced a catastrophic engine failure and made an emergency landing on a beach, despite the windshield being covered in oil ... and he and his passenger walked away, but tragically, a man on the beach was struck and killed. The next week, the FAA released a safety notice which noted that Lancairs and other high-performance kit aircraft with high stall speeds have a higher-than-average fatality rate and pilots should be better trained to handle them. The two events had nothing in common, except that Lancair is part of each story.
An Associated Press reporter told the story of the FAA notice thusly: "High-performance homemade planes like the one that killed a beach jogger last week in South Carolina are prone to stall, especially when going slower while waiting to land, and have been involved in a disproportionately large number of fatal accidents, federal officials warned Thursday."
"Prone to stall"? I doubt very much that a non-aviation reader, coming across that sentence, would presume that the word "stall" here means anything other than that the engine is prone to stop running. We have to presume that's what the writer thinks, or there would be no reason to conflate the FAA warning about high stall speeds with the emergency landing on the beach. When a GA advocate called the reporter to try to correct the apparent misperceptions in the story, the reporter only agreed to insert a mention that his group disagreed with some of the story's interpretations.
The point here, I guess, is that while there are some excellent reporters on the aviation beat in the mainstream media, their ranks are thinning, and as journalism budgets are cut across the board, the very concept of a "beat" is in danger of extinction. Things are likely to get worse before they (if ever...) get better.