The other day aviation notables John and Martha King had a run in with federal authorities. I listened to the AvWeb podcast that had a phone interview with Martha King. By all accounts so far, it was an unfortunate mistake that caused distress, rightfully so, and a relativity short detention for the Kings.
The federal authorities acted on a security alert that originated from a confused set of data. Eight years ago (less than a year since the terrorist attack on the United States) an airplane was stolen it Texas; that state by the U.S. Mexico border. The information about the aircraft theft was entered into several databases. After a period of time the Federal Aviation Administration removes old un-maintained aircraft registration data and re-issues the identification number. Unfortunately for the Kings the airplane they were flying was a leased airplane from Cessna that had been assigned one of these re-assigned registration numbers, the one that belonged to the stolen aircraft previously mentioned.
This all lead to a rough day for John and Martha and they were rightfully upset about the whole thing. This event, one that could have been learned from, has begun taunting the aviation media hounds into an uproar. A comment from Martha struck me in particular as a very bad choice of words. In her AvWeb interview she said the she felt she was the victim of civil rights violations. Now before you jump on your keyboard and send me a flurry of hate-mail, I am paraphrasing Martha’s statement; if you want the verbatim text please listen to the AvWeb interview.
The Kings were unwittingly caught up in a criminal investigation which, if the information had been accurate, could have presented significant risk to the field agents involved and many civilians. With that in mind, the field agents acted as the should have. The whole thing was wrapped up in less than an hour and aside from sore wrists from the handcuffs, the Kings said they were not injured. The field agents listened to the Kings once the scene was contained, the information was verified, and everything checked out.
Having been through a similar situation myself, I understand the frustration and the feeling of being violated. The fact is, the agents did what was correct. The data collection and processing organization is not as blameless, but I don’t want them crucified over this, ether. A failure in data processing was what created the mistaken identity. What people in the aviation community don’t seem to understand is that intelligence (don’t go there) has to be evaluated quickly when there is urgency. The fact checking comes in a little late some times. The King’s short Southern California IFR flight did not give officials the time to verify all of the data before acting. It happens. Had the flight originated in Kansas or anywhere that would give authorities several hours to follow up, the flight would have been monitored in progress and authorities would have had the time to find the data inconsistencies and scale down their response.
That takes care of the basic details and gives you, I hope, some perspective on some of the possibilities about the events that unfolded. Now for the part that has me frustrated and prompted the use of ‘hypocrisy’ in the title of this post.
The General Aviation community is frequently up in arms about how the media sensationalizes non-news and gets the general public agitated and angry with GA. Why are we doing the exact same thing? Aviation media people across the web are pounding away on their keyboards at the federal agencies involve for being incompetent liars and brutes, and headlines about aviation icons having their civil rights abused. Could we be any more like the mainstream media we seem to hate so much? STOP WITH THE SPIN ALREADY!
While I expect this from some sources, the last source I expected it from was AOPA, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. “King Schools owners mistakenly detained, AOPA president outraged” read a news release. Really Mr. Fuller? Outraged? Please tell me you have been misquoted or were misinformed. If this is truly your response to this incident, I am asking you as one of your constituents and a long time member of AOPA to please step down and let someone with a little common sense and self-control take over. I thought you had spent time in Washington; I would expect you to do at least a little research before expressing “outrage.” Or are you just playing the media game your opposition plays? Ether way, stop. You are not helping us, or anyone else for that matter.
How can we expect mainstream media to tone it down and view us fairly when we jump at the chance to lower ourselves to their level? GA has failed in this test of taking the moral high-ground, utterly and completely. Even if it comes out later when things are scrutinized more closely that there were big mistakes made, don’t feel like you have been vindicated, you haven’t. This is about reactionary responses and spinning the story to make your “news” more appealing, not about outcomes. I am disappointed with the aviation media as a whole but my disappointment with AOPA and Craig Fuller in particular goes much deeper.
I doubt Mr. Fuller will ever read my little blog entry, and that is fine. I don’t expect that these comments will reach all that many readers, but I will be happy if just one person reads this and at some point in the future they stop and think, research, and take multiple points of view in consideration before jumping on the slam-wagon of sensationalize and spin.