January 15, 2004
President, CBS News
524 W 57th St.
New York, NY 10019
Dear Mr. Heyward:
On behalf of more than 400,000 members of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the world's largest aviation organization, I am writing you to express our utter shock and dismay regarding the story about general aviation that ran on your evening news on January 14, 2004. It is disgraceful that "the news organization of Edward R. Murrow" would produce - and aggressively promote in a tabloid headline form - a segment on the prestigious CBS Evening News that was so obviously slanted, incomplete, factually erroneous and salaciously inflammatory.
Your irresponsible reporting techniques included:
- Failure to mention a wide range of security initiatives - developed by AOPA and other organizations in concert with the FAA and Homeland Security - that are now in practice across the country. Completely contrary to your report, much has changed since 9/11.
- Failure to use a credible "expert" for your interview. Peter Goetz has no credentials in GA security. He is currently a PR consultant with grief counseling experience at NTSB. Other on-camera "experts" were a Realtor and an airport manager for a highly unique airport.
- The total absence of any evidence that general aviation should be considered a security threat. To suggest otherwise is to be blind to an enormous body of facts that could never produce the sensationalistic sham that you deign to call a news story.
On the basis of the voluminous emails and calls we have received today I can confirm that your reporter, Bob Orr, has badly tarnished his reputation in the aviation community. Had he - or anyone - from CBS simply called we could have provided the information that the story was completely lacking. For example:
- The Eagle's Nest residential airpark, while not unique, is far from typical of most public-use airports. These exclusive communities are mostly privately owned, private-use airports where the community is even more closely knit than the general aviation community at large.
- The lack of fencing at facilities like Eagle's Nest is more than offset by the fact that the residents lock their planes next to their cars in enclosed hangars that are attached to their homes.
- The 5,400 public-use general aviation airports in this country have security measures appropriate to their situation. Many are fenced with controlled access; others rely less on physical security procedures than on pilot vigilance, using guidelines such as AOPA's Airport Watch program. The TSA has acknowledged that "one size does not fit all" when it comes to security at general aviation airports and will be releasing a "best practices" guide based on recommendations from the general aviation industry that will help airports adopt appropriate security measures based on their individual circumstances.
- The typical general aviation aircraft, when fully loaded, weighs less than an empty Honda Civic and carries about the same amount of fuel as a large SUV. By comparison, an airliner like the ones used on September 11, 2001, can weigh as much as 180 Civics and carry nearly 24 thousand gallons of fuel. In stark contrast, a general aviation aircraft has limited ability to cause damage as evidenced by the unfortunate incident in Tampa. It was an extremely rare act by a lone individual that, while horrifying to imagine much less see, caused relatively minor damage.
Since 9/11 we are all living in a world marked by a heightened state of fear. Many organizations and members like ours have worked hard to address opportunities to keep those events from being repeated. By planting deep seeds of fear that are totally without merit, your report did a major disservice not only to our members, but to the general public as well. We are outraged and you should be ashamed.
At AOPA we will continue to work on behalf of our members. We hope at CBS you will work half as hard to inform your viewers of the facts and leave sensational journalism in the grocery store racks where it belongs. In the interim, we stand ready to provide you with the facts that your report completely ignored.