As ‘plane’ is one of the most common aviation search terms, I decided to Google it just now. When I flipped to the ‘News’ page, 8 of the 10 ‘plane’ items listed related to dramas in flight. The words crash, forced landing, horror, emergency, flames and the phrase “pilot dies” were the headlines that greeted me.
When educated in the ways of aviation media, this is no great surprise, nor is the distortion of facts and technical inaccuracies that weave their way into the sensationalism. However, the great majority of readers at large are not so informed and their first taste of information is rather unsavoury. Aviation has an image problem.
These are the headlines that attract the attention and consequently generate readership which in turn generates advertising revenue. Aviation is not alone in this distortion of perception – there are other industries affected too. However, when safety is such an intrinsic commodity, the fact that accidents almost monopolise the headlines is misleading to say the least. It is unfair that the very small minority of flights that take to the skies dictate how the vast majority of the industry and its people are perceived.
I experienced this first hand many years ago when I forced landed in unfriendly terrain. (See 'The Next Flight') As I was becoming airborne in the rescue helicopter I could hear the ‘news choppers’ one by one returning to their bases when my pilot advised them of the safe outcome with no injuries and minimal damage to the aircraft. Nothing to see here folks.
It will be a difficult image for aviation to change and not merely because of the media perspective – human nature also has a say. As a paramedic, the first question I was always asked was, “What is the worst thing that you have seen?” I was very rarely asked about positive outcomes in the first instance and I had to steer the conversation in that direction.
Still we must rage against the machine. Maybe we should all attempt to educate family and friends about the culture of safety that underpins aviation and the record it boasts. From trainer to airliner, we can do our best as aviators to defend the impressive statistics by the way we fly. Knowledge can dispel fear and if we can each make one nervous flier a little more at ease, then it has been worthwhile. In the interim, I might just not Google ‘plane’ for a while.