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Everyone loves a good plane crashEveryone loves a good plane crash

The popularity of Nascar racing in this country can be at least partially explained by one thing—there is lots of crashing. Americans love destruction, which is unfortunate if you run a business trying to train people how to fly.

As much as we all like to complain about how much the news media sensationalizes the news, the fact they do it is proof that people have a big appetite for anything that involves some amount of destruction. If your schools experiences an accident or incident involving one of your airplanes or students, a person from a local or regional news source could come to you for a comment. Here are five tips on how to deal with the situation:

1. Talk to a friend. The best defense is a good offense. Make friends with local reporters and journalists well in advance of any news event, and you have a much better chance of having the story go in a way that’s good for your school. Most people in the news business are on some sort of social media site, or you can reach them via phone or email through their employer. Offer to have them take a flight. Keep them involved with community building events, and learn their kids names. It could come in handy.

2. Control the message. Your decision of whether or not to speak to someone looking for a comment has ramifications. If you don’t, you could be portrayed as hostile and unflattering. But if you do speak, what you say could be used against you. Saying “no comment” is not often a good strategy. Instead, consider explaining your side of the story in the clearest terms possible. Stress your school’s commitment to safety, or say you are interested in learning the facts.

3. Don’t speculate. Don’t take the opportunity to do what most pilots do after an accident or incident and speculate on the cause. It’s not the forum for that. If you choose to say anything, answer only those facts you know to be true.

4. Use layman’s terms. Most people don’t understand aviation’s language. Don’t confuse the reporter or journalist by throwing in jargon. Keep it as basic as possible to avoid confusion. Help by confirming facts on the airplane type and other basic tasks, but without talking about things only a pilot would understand. Constant-speed prop means nothing to most people.

5. Stay on the record. You’ve probably heard of on the record or on background. Don’t do this. Consider anything you are saying to be printable, quotable, and useable. People make mistakes and many people thought they were being helpful when they speculated or gave some additional information off the record. Keep it quotable, which means choosing your words carefully and speaking clearly.

Hopefully it won’t happen to one of your students, but if an incident or accident does occur with one of your assets, making a few smart choices when it comes to talking to the media could help to maintain your standing in the community.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

"Flight Training" Editor
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.

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