6:54 PM

Excellence in Reporting
from MSNBC

We bloggers love to bang on the mainstream media any time they get an aviation story wrong. You know the drill, when you open the morning paper and read that a "twin-engine Cessna 172 with eight people on board" has crashed.

But when a mainstream media outlet gets it right, they deserve major league kudos. And this week on MSNBC.com, reporters Alex Johnson and Grant Stinchfield really hit one out of the park with their story about airline pilots who are claiming they are being forced to fly with low fuel levels. In a nutshell, the story goes something like this, from the MSNBC site:

"As cash-strapped airlines pack more passengers on flights into ever-busier airports, pilots are filing internal complaints warning that airline cost-cutting on fuel supplies could be creating a major safety risk. The complaints, compiled by msnbc.com and NBC News from a database of safety incident reports maintained on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration, reveal wide-ranging concern among pilots that airlines are compelling them to fly with too little fuel. With the cost of jet fuel having doubled in the past year, according to Energy Department figures released last month, airlines are eager to save fuel costs."
This article is a must read for anyone who is a pilot, or anyone who plans on becoming a passenger on many major U.S. carriers. This story is reported the way real journalists used to work, by digging deep to uncover actual facts. Here is how Johnson and Stinchfield developed their story:
"MSNBC.com reviewed more than 5,000 voluntary incident reports filed by pilots and first officers with the Aviation Safety Reporting System. All filings in which flight crews declared “minimum fuel” or more critical “fuel emergency” situations were examined for those in which crews either declared the fuel problems after having requested extra fuel before takeoff or specifically alleged that they took off with inadequate fuel for conditions. The filings examined for this article reflect the sentiments only of pilots who chose to file reports and to include specific commentary on why they thought the incidents arose."
While the names of the pilots who made these incident reports have been redacted, the Aviation Safety Reporting System is maintained by NASA, who considers the database a "reliable and conservative snapshot" of events. My two cents:
With fuel costs skyrocketing, it is easy to see how the airlines would want to cut back anywhere they can on fuel. But as any PIC knows, the safe outcome of that flight rests on the shoulders of the Captain, who needs to be the last word on fuel on board. If this MSNBC is true – and I believe it is – this is just more of the same from the an industry who just recently got busted big time for trying to slide in under the FAA-mandated inspection regs. It is not a stretch for this cynical outsider to visualize a corporate world of Big Airlines who would require dispatchers to supercede the fuel orders of the Captain. As each day passes, we the people lose faith in most of the Big Airlines, and this story doesn't help earn back our confidence.
So go here and read this story, it is a very good example of how investigative journalism used to be conducted, back when reporters had the balls to really get their hands dirty. Reporters Johnson and Stinchfield go at this story from every conceivable angle, leaving no stone unturned.

Oh, and Grant Stinchfield has a great blog post on this story, for more information.

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