Aviation in the Information AgeVigilance, communicate carefully, be wary of “experts” & challenge inaccuracies

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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Richard Leghorn, the founder of Itek Corporation, should get credit for coining the phrase, the Information Age in his 1960 work found in H.B. Maynard “Top Managem. Handbk. xlvii. 1024.” No doubt about it, through the internet, one can exact almost any answer to any question. The challenge of this data rich period is the ability to distinguish between accurate and not so reliable facts, opinions and analyses.

The above images and the below linked story provide a useful exercise in differentiating between the exact and the inexact. What makes this tale so compelling is that the communication, which underlies the story, was between an expert writer and an aviation expert. Also, this is also a didactic opportunity, a teachable moment, about how such errors, if not omissions, can be corrected.

The event, which inspired this Sun Sentinel article, was the crash of a Hawker-Siddeley 125 into an apartment building in Akron, OH. The plane was operated by ExecuFlight, a Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Part 135 charter operator. The passengers were employed by Pebb Enterprises, a Boca Raton, FL headquartered company. Not surprisingly, the story was of considerable interest to the Sun Sentinel, a Ft. Lauderdale publication.

k11So, the newspaper assigned Ken Kaye, their aviation expert, who a 30 year veteran journalist and as a licensed pilot, he also covers aviation safety issues. Obviously he qualifies for such a story.

In the course of his research, he reached out to Robert E. Breiling, an acknowledged expert on business aviation accidentsk22. He and his firm Robert E. Breiling Associates, Inc. have been compiling and analyzing business turbine aircraft accidents since bizjets were introduced in the 1960s. Again, he is obviously an expert who knows a great deal about this issue.

Then the communication process began. The well informed journalist and the knowledgeable BA accident analyst talked about the tragic crash involving a FLL charter company and local passengers. What the reporter heard from Breiling resulted in the following quotes from the original Sun Sentinel article:

“Charter pilots are ‘pushed’ harder to complete flights – despite factors like weather and maintenance problems – than corporate pilots, Breiling said.”

“If charter pilots don’t get to their destination, they don’t get paid,” he said. “So they may push it, something a corporate operator wouldn’t do.”

That copy obviously captured the interest of the local readers, but did the BA accident expert say such an inflammatory statement?

The words alarmed the very active business aviation community, particularly the charter contract pilots. One of that group wrote to Mr. Breiling and expressed severe dismay to him about his quote. Both the quoted source and the charter pilot contacted the author. The story has been revised to delete the above quote.

Lessons from this saga:

  1. Evidentially, the communication between the two experts was less than perfect. Perhaps, the writer’s ear was easily influenced to hear such a damning statement.
  1. Should a licensed pilot have known better? Maybe, the aviation community is close knit and he might have known better. The terms of contract pilots’ agreements with the Part 135 operator are not widely disseminated.
  1. Perhaps it would have been well advised for Breiling to ask to see his quotes BEFORE publication.
  1. Attention and vigilance in the Information Age are imperative for the aviation sector.
    • Listen to your average TV coverage of an airplane crash. Such experts need extensive credentials to comment intelligently on these events; not just a pilot’s license makes a person able to analyze what is on the public record.
      → Pathologists and surgeons frequently work on the same body parts, but the Doctor with the scalpel is not usually the best resource on a cause of death. Different training and different skills separate what their real areas of expertise may be.
    • Often these interviews result in misinformation, in the opinions of those who really have experience sifting through complex, uncertain clues and discerning between causation lines which are likely to link to a realistic fault.
    • Such “misinformation” does not get a doubtful label on the internet; so the longer it remains there, the more credible it becomes. “I read it on the internet; it must be true” is both a joke and an unfortunate truism.
    • Challenge what you know to be inaccurate.
  1. The contract charter pilots did challenge and the result was a corrected article.


ARTICLE: Expert: Pilots of doomed plane may have flown too low to get glimpse of the runway

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