The media frenzy surrounding the recent New York Times article has passed as quickly as it arrived - a sure sign it wasn't much of a story after all. Even with AOPA President Phil Boyer appearing on most of the major network broadcasts to tell our side of the story, the episode was painful for all of us.
That's because, in several cases, the news media chose to present the views of self-proclaimed "aviation security expert" Charles Slepian, an attorney and founder of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center. "Aviation critic" is likely a more accurate description. Appearing on several national newscasts, Slepian has consistently played fast and loose with general aviation facts. Too fast and too loose for AOPA and its members. "We believe everyone has a right to their opinion, but there's a huge difference between stating an opinion and presenting something as fact - especially on the sensitive issue of national security," said AOPA Executive Vice President of Communications Jeff Myers.
In a letter sent today to the country's top news executives, Myers pointed out the many factual flaws in Slepian's presentations and took the organizations involved to task for not challenging his highly erroneous statements.
"In the best case, it's really lousy journalism," said Myers. "In the worst case it's irresponsible fear mongering. And in either case it's painting a negative picture of GA that's completely inaccurate and totally undeserved."
The letter cited one of AOPA's main concerns about Slepian's expertise on the state of aviation security: By his own admission, he has not stepped foot on a general aviation airport in three years.
In recent appearances on local and national Fox broadcasts and NBC's Nightly News, Slepian made a stream of outrageous statements regarding GA. In one case he told viewers " ...you can hijack an airplane from a general aviation airport. And those are the 18,000 airports across the United States in which you can pretty much walk onto the field and get into the plane, and if you know how to fly - fly one away." He went on to say that all GA airports are unsecured and GA pilots keep their airplanes' keys right in the ignition. (He underscored the keys-in-ignition point when the host challenged him on it.) Another: Anyone can go to a GA airport, hit a switch and take off...in a 757.
On Monday (March 14) he told a national audience that a pilot could put 200 pounds of fertilizer in a Cessna and create another Oklahoma City situation, referring to the 5,000-pound bomb in that attack.
"Slepian is perpetrating the GA-equivalent of shouting 'fire' in a crowded movie theater," said Myers. "His wild statements about GA are slandering the good name of GA aviation. It's one thing to have an opinion, however ill formed. It's quite another to have a national stage on which to share it. We're counting on the news organizations to guard their own integrity, and our letters to them are an attempt to help them to do just that."
We'll keep you advised.
March 22, 2005