General aviation groups fight back against USA Today story

A new USA Today series takes aim at general aviation safety, saying that while federal investigators tend to cite pilot error in crashes, deaths and injuries were caused by defective parts and dangerous designs.

The report, called Unfit for Flight, said that 45,000 people have been killed in the past five decades in private planes and helicopters, nearly nine times the number that have died in airline crashes.

“Wide-ranging defects have persisted for years as manufacturers covered up problems, lied to federal regulators and failed to remedy known malfunctions, USA TODAY found,” the series said. “Judges and juries¬† have spent weeks hearing cases that took years to prepare and unearthed evidence that NTSB (the National Transportation Safety Board)¬† investigations never discovered.”

It didn’t take long for advocacy groups to fire back., saying that USA Today misrepresents general aviation accidents and misleads the public.

The article uses “sweeping generalizations, cherry-picked statistics, unbalanced comparisons, and unattributed figures to claim that private aviation is an inherently dangerous activity,” the Experimental Aircraft Association said.

“Unfortunately, the article’s title ‘Unfit for Flight’ perhaps would have been more accurate as ‘Unfit for Print,’” Jack Pelton, EAA chairman said in a statement. “The fear-pandering article gives the impression of an unchecked world of flight operations. In fact, general aviation’s airworthiness directive system administered by the FAA, which adds safety requirements to new and previously produced aircraft and powerplants, has the force of law and holds aviation to higher standards than any other mode of transportation in the country.”

General aviation fatalities have dropped 40 percent since the early 1990s, the EAA said, a fact that the series failed to mention.

It also did not mention efforts in the advancements in safety, it said.

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association have also taken issue with the accounts.

Dave Dewhirst, a local pilot said, among other things, that the series never noted that the NTSB’s findings are not admissable in court. That’s so it can be an unbiased third party.

He also took issue with the continuous reference of “amateur pilots” with the impression that all general aviation aircraft are flown by private pilots.

“I hold a commercial pilot’s license, but I do not have a commercial driver’s license,” he said in an email. “I guess I am an amateur car driver.”