Friday, January 16, 2009

Could you Face the Camera?



There is not an aviator alive that hasn't been talking non-stop about the heroic job "Sully" Sullenberger did to ditch his Airbus 320 in the middle of the Hudson River without a fatality and only a few injuries deemed anything more than scratches.

We've all gone through the scenario in our heads:
You are outbound from La Guardia, throttles forward and climbing like a homesick angel. All of the sudden a couple of Canadian Geese commit goosicide by aiming right down the barrels of both engines. Upon impact, they snuff both powerplants out, and you are now piloting a really heavy glider. You are at 3,200 MSL, and in an instant, your aviator instincts tell you that a 180 back to LGA is not possible, and coasting powerless into Teterboro off the nose is a crapshoot. So you look down to the only patch of the planet below you not inhabited by millions of souls, and aim for the water. You trim for best glide, and then trim some more, bringing your A320 to just a cat's whisker above stall. You milk it, milk it, and milk it some more, and the balancing act between flight and stall is perilous – like balancing an elephant on the head of a pin. Let a wing drop and you and 150+ pax spiral into the near-frozen water below. But you keep the wings level, and as the luggage begins to meet the H20, you put the yoke in your lap and "tail drag" off a couple more knots. The tail hits the water – off comes a few more knots – and with wings still level, you stall the beast hard and belly slap the water to become a very expensive boat.
O.K., that was my .02 worth. But I am NOT an Airbus expert, or even a CFI. Would I have gone on TV and said that, no, but 2008 National CFI of the Year Max Trescott – a regular reader of WoF – did face the media and gave a splendid interview when the green light came on.

Trescott went on NBC affiliate KNTV in the San Francisco Bay Area to discuss USAir 1549 and spoke about scenario based training, risk management, engine failure, water landing, ditching, bird strikes, controlled descent, and simulator training.

In discussing if we all should take any opportunity to go in front of a TV camera to discuss aviation, Trescott made a couple of great points to me via email:
"People should think carefully before accepting an invitation to be interviewed by the media. Some of the questions they should consider are:
1) What’s the reputation of the particular media outlet or reporter. Do they tend to sensationalize? If it’s clear that they’re doing ‘gotcha’ journalism, you should probably walk away.
2) Are you extremely knowledgeable on the subject, or it there someone else that you might want to refer them to.
3) Are you an effective communicator? Do you have experience for example giving public speeches or seminars? Do you think very quickly on your feet?
4) Is there any chance to look at the questions ahead of time so that you can prepare?
We should all be on the lookout for opportunities to defend GA, but Trescott's advice should be heeded. As a past member of the traditional media, I can add this to the conversation: Grill the reporter hard before agreeing to talk on the record or in front of a camera. Ask them their "angle" on the story, and if they tap dance, run away fast. Ask them if they are a pilot, or are a friend of GA...because if they are – and if they are one of us – chances are pretty good you'll get a fair shake.

I guarantee you that if you ask the right questions before a media interview, you can get the reporter to play their cards. And if those cards want to harpoon GA, you'll know it and can wait until the green light is on and then spit out endless sound bytes that all paint GA in a positive way. If all they get from you is "Flying GA planes is safe, it is fun, go learn to fly today!"...then when the tape hits the editing bay, they won't have any bits and pieces they can pull out to help them make their case that Skyhawks are falling from the sky.