Pilots: John Nance

December 1, 2008

Most people probably associate John Nance with ABC News, where he has been an aviation analyst since the mid-1990s. Whenever an airplane crash captures the focus of the nation, Nance is ABC’s face and voice of aviation. Nance, who claims to “have flown almost everything Boeing ever made,” was a pilot for Braniff and Alaska Airlines. As an officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Nance flew the C-141. From the Vietnam War to the first Gulf War, Nance was on the 141 flight deck.

Besides an active flying career, Nance has been busy in the world of communications. His career began in newspapers and evolved into radio and then local TV news. With 18 fiction and nonfiction books to his credit, aviation has been a central theme in most of his writing. He’s written on the demise of Braniff and the intricacies of airline deregulation. Several of his books have been on The New York Times Best Seller list, and two novels, Medusa’s Child and Pandora’s Clock, were made into TV movies. But Nance considers his most recent book, Orbit, to be his best.

Safety is one of Nance’s many passions, and he criss-crosses the country addressing the subject with pilots and, surprisingly, surgeons. Drawing on his experience in the military and the airlines, Nance has found that the same issues affecting cockpit crew coordination are also found in the operating room.

Despite his work in TV, movies, lectures, and books, pilots in general seem unaware of Nance. “Private aviation doesn’t know me very well,” says the King Air and Cessna 172 pilot, “and I want to change that.” When asked to explain the lack of recognition, he responds with a sigh, saying, “I think that’s my fault” and a reflection of his TV reporting on “big iron” accidents. Nance says he “just kind of assumed that [the GA pilot] would be there” to read his books.

Nance has had successful careers in radio, TV, the military, movies, airlines, book publishing, and public speaking—and aviation has played a major role in almost all. When asked to describe himself, Nance’s response comes within a single heartbeat. “I’m a communicator.” And if you ever read his books, or see him speak, you are likely to agree.

Topics Pilots