'Time' pulls ad in response to pressure from AOPA members

January 3, 2003

Scores of members copied AOPA on letters and e-mails they sent to the management of Time magazine regarding the recent controversial house ads suggesting that general aviation aircraft are a threat to nuclear power plants. Here are just a few examples of members' thoughtful messages.

"Numerous studies demonstrate that general aviation aircraft have neither the mass, energy, nor load-carrying capacity to breach the hardened containment buildings surrounding all power reactors in the U.S. The general aviation industry has worked with the federal government to heighten aviation security since 9/11. AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) Airport Watch and photo ID petitions are but two examples of this group of citizens doing their part for meaningful security of our country. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge praised Airport Watch in a recent video spot for pilots as, 'a great example of the government and the private sector working together to secure the homeland.'"

"Certainly there are a few unsavory people who learn to fly small airplanes, just as there are unsavory people who rent Ryder trucks. Rental cars and trucks require no more licensure than a driver's license. A person renting an airplane requires a valid FAA medical certificate, an FAA-issued pilot's [certificate] and biennial proof of flying skills. Licensed drivers must certainly outnumber rated pilots by several thousand-fold.

Would you accept an ad showing a Ryder Truck sign with the bombed-out shell of the Murray Federal Building framed in the background saying, 'Remember when only environmentalists would have been alarmed by this photo?'"

"Remember when only environmentalists would have been alarmed by this photo?"

If you run another ad that slams general aviation without any basis in fact, your magazine staff will be able to 'remember when all those pilots unsubscribed to TIME magazine....'"

"As a former state health administrator who had a portion of the responsibility for assuring the safety of this state's sole nuclear power plant and two college-based reactors, and as a GA pilot, I have some knowledge of how such power plants are constructed, and the destructive power of the vast majority of GA aircraft—especially the light, single-engine Cessnas depicted in your ad. I know I could do more damage to a power plant with my neighbor's pickup truck than I could with the Cessna Skyhawk, or the Grumman Cheetah that I fly. Each day 18-wheel trucks loaded with ammonium nitrate, or paint thinner, or gasoline, or sulfuric acid routinely pass within a few hundred feet of most nuclear reactors in the U.S. That is much closer than the vast majority of GA aircraft would come. Perhaps (but doubtfully) your ad was not intended to foment fear on the part of non-pilots. However, irrational fear is more psychologically destructive than rational fear, and to the extent you promote irrational fear you are aiding the terrorists because that, in large measure, is just what terrorism is all about."

"I am a power plant turbine engineer of about 30 years experience, as well as a general aviation pilot. Cooling towers of this design are used on both nuclear and fossil-fired power plants. (In fact you should know that some power plants both nuclear and fossil do not use any type of cooling tower as they can access a river, lake, or the ocean for cooling.) They are simply used to cool and condense the steam to water after it passes through the turbine. Any sort of disaster effecting the cooling tower would have a minimal effect on the safety of the plant. It would simply shut down the turbine generator and put the plant out of operation. Standby systems come on to keep the nuclear fuel cool and in a fossil plant, the boiler simply shuts down.

If you want to try to generate some discussion concerning power plants and small airplanes, at least take the time to verify your photographs."

"The Limerick Nuclear Reactor [depicted in the ad] is several miles from the airport, and aircraft do not normally overfly the reactor itself to land at or depart from the airport. The photograph in your magazine makes the two cooling towers appear closer than they actually are to the parked aircraft. I believe the Pottstown-Limerick Airport is also owned by the PECO Energy Company, and they are apparently not too alarmed by its presence near their nuclear facility.

I consider myself to be fairly well informed on these matters. The aircraft in the foreground of your photograph with the green canopy cover is owned by my wife. I have flown in the Philadelphia area since I received my pilot [certificate] in 1996. I have also been an Air Traffic Controller since 1992."

"A light aircraft [typically] weighs [less than] 4,200 pounds, or about two tons. Two tons is half the mass of an SUV, and how much of a threat to a nuclear containment vessel is an SUV? Do you think one could breach the containment vessel with a two-ton vehicle and spread death and terror? It simply can't be done! (Perhaps we could convince [those] behind that December 23 Time ad on page 70 get in his/her SUV and drive into a reinforced concrete wall at full speed to give us a test of that theory?)"

"The fact is that a computer engineering model study done by the Electric Power Research Institute, an industry-sponsored consortium, showed that a 767, fully loaded with fuel, wouldn't breach the four-foot-thick concrete of a [nuclear power plant's] containment structure at 350 mph.

A 767 has nearly 500 times the energy of a typical general aviation aircraft.

Kinetic Energy = 1/2 * Mass * Velocity^2

Boeing 767 2.11E+10 345,000 350
Cessna 210 4.28E+07 3,800 150"

"[If] GA is banned, I would like you to show a picture of a red cooler on a ramp in small town America, someone's donated organs inside, the waiting medical staff pacing because the organ is going to waste since it could not be flown to where it is needed.

You really want a story? Send an un-biased photographer and reporter, visit a Civil Air Patrol squadron or one of the other associations teaching flying to our future airline pilots or, say, Wings of Hope, and ride with a medical crew being flown to a small hospital in a small city where commercial planes will not fly because there is no money in it, racing to reach a gifted organ to save a precious life.

Then, tell us again how dangerous General Aviation is to the nuclear plant; it is a fact that a GA plane couldn't breach a containment vessel if you shot it from a cannon."

"To many people watch TV and see a grenade destroy a building. In real life, it will kill someone, but sure doesn't do a whole heck of a lot to the structure around it.

Not that this will make a difference, but the movie industry has consistently overblown (literally) the power of explosives, collisions, in order to make something spectacular."

"Why not show an automobile or Ryder truck or van, either of which can be (and was) used as a conduit for terror on our own soil? Why not show one of the millions of gun owners in the U.S. toting his rifle or shotgun, either of which can be (and was) used to inflict terror within the [Washington, D.C.] Beltway?"

"Maybe in addition [to retracting the ad] you and your staff need to be banished to the scheduled airlines...."

January 3, 2003