What A Difference A Year Or A Week Makes (Or Doesn’t)


What a difference a year makes.

A year ago, almost to the day, we were excoriating Icon for its lopsided buyer contract that made draconian sound like an upgrade. In the midst of a beat down by the press, Icon circled the wagons at Sun ‘n Fun, conducted tight-lipped interviews, if any at all, and finally re-engineered the buyer agreement.

The year-to-the-day part came two weeks ago when the company had its first accident, or least the first significant one that we know about. Operating in Biscayne Bay off Miami, the aircraft had a hard landing and either shipped water or breached the hull and sunk up to the wings. No injuries. What’s different is that Icon reached out to us with a brief statement explaining the accident so we wouldn’t have to chase them down for the inevitable no comment or the usual enervating spin. Or be tempted to quote an Icon-hating source.

Note to companies: If whatever you do is about to hit the news cycle or already has, that’s the best way to tamp it down and get it out the news cycle as quickly as possible. United Airlines, take note.

In the news comment section, someone cracked: “So much for Icon training.” Tough crowd. Icon said the accident was its first in about 3500 hours of flying. So what does it mean? Absolutely nothing, other than this: If you fool around in boats that fly, you’ll eventually screw up a landing, hit an obstruction in the water or otherwise spooge something and you’ll sink one. Welcome to reality. No amount of training, no matter how perfect, will change that. When the type has 10 times as many hours, we’ll know more about its accident pattern. For now, it looks like par.

Is it news? Of course it’s news. In the same way we covered the early rash of Cirrus crashes was news. When a company throws down and says it’s going to change everything, we’re going to pay a lot more attention than if they just introduce another “exciting” white-painted airplane with a panel full of virtual reality. Once Cirrus beat back the accident rate, we covered that, too. Now we don’t cover Cirrus crashes unless there’s video of the CAPS deployment, and even that has become pass.

On a darker note, it has now been 631 days since I have not been allowed to fly in an Icon A5.

Gyrocopter Guy Two Years Later

What a difference two years makes.

Yes, it has been two years since the whacky postman, Doug Hughes, caused another Washington &^%fit by landing his gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn, thereby becoming a graying American Mathias Rust.

At the time, I was outraged that he was so self-centered as to risk damaging the entire aviation community for his own narrow interests of highlighting political dysfunction by delivering 535 letters lamenting the infusion of big money into politics. Like many, I thought that maybe he shoulda just mailed the stupid letters. On the other hand, this sort of theater has been a durable feature of American politics and, in a way, is what a pluralistic democracy should be about. It occasionally features harmless civil disobedience.

Aye, I’ve mellowed. A recent story in Politico updated the Hughes story and noted that he was sentenced to four months in a federal slammer and served three, followed by a stint in a halfway house to ease his reintegration back into society. If that part sounds just slightly risible, consider this: When a fellow inmate asked Hughes what he was in for, he replied “illegally parking of a gyrocopter at the Capitol building.” Well, it was a little more than that, but not much more. That it came to that shows how paranoid we’ve become about terrorism juxtaposed with things that fly.

Why the United Story Won’t Die

What a difference a week makes. Or doesn’t.

The United Airlines story about removing a passenger by force did not, as many predicted, die overnight. It remained above the fold all week and we’re running yet another story today. Predictably, the third, fourth or fifth evolutions now have United disowning Republic Airways, which operated the flight under United’s flag. This week, ALPA fired off a press release rightfully deploring the fact that a passenger was treated so poorly, but couldn’t resist a “but it wasn’t us” rejoinder, noting that neither United nor its ALPA-member pilots were involved.

In my view, this is the sort of buck passing that tends to keep the ember of such stories smoldering. My view is that the sooner you own it unconditionally, the sooner you can mend the PR damage. (See Icon, above.) It took United CEO Oscar Munoz four days to get there, but he eventually did and said it should never have happened. Period. And that it won’t again.

In my view, that this story continues to reverberate is emblematic of the frustration people feel in being treated so poorly as customers, and not just by the airlines. Modern business is festooned with scam offers, bait-and-switch pricing and fine-print contracts with hidden charges. The airlines’ usurious $200 change fee is just a visible example.

To sample public opinion on this, I read news columns and blogs until my eyes glazed over. One feature of these was consistent and especially dispiriting. By my rough score keeping, between 10 and 20 percent of people think the passenger deserved the beating he got. In other words, failing to give up his seat was righteously paired with a concussion and a broken nose. I suspect you’ll see a similar percentage in the AVweb poll we’re running this week. Pardon me, but that lack of perspective strikes me as being worse than the event itself. I’d hate to see the punishment these folks would dole out for something serious.

Still, I think United actually has an opportunity here. It consistently rates at the bottom or near the bottom for customer service and this sort of traumatic event can serve as a pivot point to turn things around. Judging by reaction and notes from United employees, they are proud, dedicated people rightfully appalled by what happened on that aircraft. If Munoz is smart—and he’s supposed to be—he’s got a rare opportunity to forthrightly lead in the right direction.

Now we can wait to see if a year makes any difference.