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AOPA appalled by inaccurate ABC 'Primetime' vacuum pump storyAOPA appalled by inaccurate ABC 'Primetime' vacuum pump story

ABC's Primetime news magazine provided viewers with a sensationalized, biased, and inaccurate story last night on the nature of general aviation vacuum pump failures.

In their story about "why unsuspecting pilots and passengers can be in danger in single-engine airplanes," ABC producers declined an on-camera interview with the top authorities on general aviation safety: AOPA and AOPA Air Safety Foundation.

It's maddening," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "They misled their audience. I'm disappointed that ABC didn't grant us the opportunity to explain the issue on camera to the American public."

"I have no idea why ABC attributed a quote to AOPA saying 50 percent of the pilots failed a simulator test," Boyer said. "We don't even have a simulator at AOPA. We can only guess that the reference was about an Air Safety Foundation/Flight Safety International study where 50 percent of the pilots failed a simulator test prior to being trained. It was not mentioned that once trained, all pilots were able to land the simulator after a simulated vacuum pump failure."

A subsequent and more realistic study by the Air Safety Foundation in an actual single-engine aircraft resulted with all pilots in this sample being able to recognize the condition and land successfully after a real vacuum failure.

Before the story aired, AOPA did explain to the Primetime story producer that instrument-rated pilots are trained to handle a vacuum pump failure. All aircraft certificated for IFR flight have redundant instrumentation, so that even if a vacuum pump fails, the pilot still has enough information to maintain safe flight. AOPA explained "partial panel" flying and pointed out that instrument pilots must prove their proficiency flying partial panel as part of an instrument proficiency check (IPC).

AOPA also told ABC that:

  • Ninety percent of general aviation flights are flown in visual meteorological conditions, where a pump failure is not an issue at all.
  • Vacuum pump failures do not cause many accidents, only two or three a year.
  • AOPA and ASF do encourage the use of backup vacuum systems (or an independently powered secondary attitude indicator) in aircraft routinely flown in instrument conditions, but do not support any regulations that would require such systems for the vast majority of GA pilots who aren't flying in difficult weather conditions.

"The fact is, vacuum failures represent a very small part of the total accident picture," said Bruce Landsberg, executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. "Over the past 10 years, there have been 20 pump failures identified by the National Transportation Safety Board. That means on average, only one accident out of a thousand is due to pump failure."

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