Facebook is bad for general aviation

We are a proud group. We wear shirts and hats from AOPA and Sporty’s. The first thing we manage to talk about in any group is how we love being a pilot and showing pictures of our latest airplanes. “Pictures of my kids? No, but have you seen pictures of my last flight?”

We should be proud, and sharing our love of all things aviation is a great thing. The only problem is when we share accidents and near-misses. Sometimes we scare the public, our friends, and families. How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh you’re a pilot? Little airplanes are dangerous…” Why do so many people dislike and fear us? We, aviation’s biggest fans, are telling them how dangerous we are everyday on Facebook.

Ask yourself how many times you’ve seen posts about airplane accidents. How many times have you commented and shared those same posts? Why do we share and post the very worst and scariest part of GA? I think we forget that most of the people who read our Facebook posts are not pilots. Accidents and near misses are interesting and educational to us. Reading about accidents is great for learning from the mistakes of others. Sharing them privately by email or in safety classes is a good thing. Sharing them on public social media, where most people don’t understand, only continues and grows the public fear of GA. Every time we share a negative story on social media we just keep convincing people to be afraid of “little airplanes.”

Facebook flying posts

How can we turn around the public’s fear and confusion about GA? Let’s all agree, and get other pilots we know, to take the three-item Facebook pilot pledge. The three items are simple: Don’t share bad news, share only good news and share the beauty we see.

The first item is the most important. We must all agree to not post, share, re-share and tweet accident stories and aviation problems. Think about it from a sales perspective. Let’s pretend you sell cars. How many stories about recalls, accidents, and people being killed in your car would you advertise? How hard would you try to scare people away from your brand? We are all salespeople for general aviation and by sharing the few, and worst, stories are we only scare more people about flying.

The second item goes back to sales. Instead of telling people how dangerous airplanes are, let’s sell the benefits instead. Would more people like “little airplanes” and “little airports” if we only shared stories of Young Eagles, PilotsNPaws, and Angel Flights? How many people in Santa Monica, California, who want to close the airport would change their mind if their kids went on a Young Eagles flight? How many would defend and try to save the airport if they knew we flew children with cancer for free to get treatment? Every day GA does amazing things that most people will never hear about. We can change this. If we can get 50,000 pilots to post or share just one or inspiring aviation story every week, we can generate 260,000 free advertising impressions!

The third and easiest thing to do is post your flying pictures. Come on, I know you take at least thirty pictures every time you fly. Share how beautiful the views from a “small airplane” are. You should be proud of how hard you worked to fly. Don’t forget to share your accomplishments. Every time you complete a flight review, attend a safety class, solo, get a new rating or, even just fly a new plane, post it!

Compare the two posts above. Decide which one will make people want to fly and which one will make more people want to close local airports. We all want more pilots and more people who love aviation. Changes to the medical requirements will not save General Aviation. Changing the public perception from fear and ignorance to loving GA can.

What inspiring stories and pictures will you share this month? Let me know in the comments and as always, Fly Safe!

35 Comments

  • Gary,
    I was *this* close to writing a comment based solely on the title, thinking of how some of the best fly-outs I’ve attended were because of Facebook. However, after actually reading your article (shocking, I know!), I think you bring up some good points. We’re certainly doing ourselves no favors spreading these news items, even if our circle of pilot friends may find something useful in them.

    I’ve luckily not gotten a lot of the “are you crazy??” questions when I mention I’m a pilot, but when we had a plane crash just off our runway last year, I got a few text messages making sure it wasn’t me. We’re always on the clock, whether we want to admit it or not.

    Safe flying!

  • Brandon,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I know I get those same texts every time there’s an accident. Keep sharing those fly-ins. Do me a favor and share this article too.

    Fly Safe!

    Gary

  • I certainly agree with the points made here. However as tragic as it is to read about accidents, ranging from mishaps to fatalities, I believe as a student pilot nearing my PPL check-ride these incidents contribute to keeping us sharp on things we may be doing wrong. For example I just read about a crash that involved a Beachcraft performing touch and goes. It made me reflect vsa full stop landings A solution to this is keeping the negative and bad news in a private group format for the pilot community and posting the good things on public domain. Just my two cents.

  • I don’t share bad news about flying because I don’t want the people I love to associate that with me or small planes. One thing that makes me cringe is cockpit pics where clearly the focus should be on flying and not getting a good pic. (Not referencing you, WF!) so, I agree that we should share pics, but if you’re up there alone, make sure you’re not snapping the pics during a busy time.

  • I think you’re way off the mark here. The general public already has the incorrect preconceived notion that small planes are unsafe and this notion predates Facebook. The approach that has been taken to-date is to have pilots who have developed personal trust or rapport talk about Risk Management, Training and ADM.

    Talking about accidents and how to prevent them reassures the non pilot public that we as a group are active, we learn and we are interested in being stewards of our craft and their safety, in the air and on the ground.

    Hiding ourheads in the sand and not talking about the elephant in the room makes us look to the non flying public as elitist and disconnected from reality.

    • I agree that the notion predates Facebook, hell, many people are apprehensive about even regional turboprops.

    • While public perception of safety certainly predates Facebook and social media, there’s another thing to consider.

      One thing that we know about humans is that we tend to overestimate the probability of events that are vivid and easy to recall (a phenomenon known as the availability heuristic). Airline accidents are a prime example of this – there’s almost no media coverage of safe flights, but accidents (both airline & GA) are covered fairly widely, and they’re evocative.

      Focusing on the beauty and experiences of flight in lieu of accidents could start to shift this balance ever so slightly.

      Thanks,
      Chris

  • This post should be filed under “Problem in search of a Solution”.

    Facebook isn’t killing private aviation, and neither are currently active pilots who participate in social media, nor are those who don’t. Private aviation isn’t being killed anyway .. it’s just rolling along at pretty close to even above its historical average of population participation.

    Just to put things in perspective, in 1935, when the USA had a population of 127.25 million, the total number of licensed pilots was 14,505. That would be one pilot per 8,773 residents of the USA. 1935 was at a time when aviation was literally worshipped, and glamorous aviators were at or near the pinnacle of American popular society, and celebrated as national heroes (Lindbergh, Earhart, Doolittle, Rickenbacker, etc.), and a very large proportion of little boys and girls back then wanted passionately to grow up and become pilots just like their heroes.

    Today we have 616,860 pilots out of a total population of 321.7 million, or one pilot per 521 persons. That’s nearly 17 times the relative proportion of pilots as we had in the heyday of American aviation.

    Too many measure today’s pilot population against the grossly-inflated population of post World War Two, when we trained millions of pilots and air crew in uniform to fight a war, many of whom wanted to keep flying after the war … and we also had a GI Bill that paid for flight training for millions of those and other veterans over the decades. The same factors applied during the long Cold War and with Korea and Vietnam veterans, leading to a peak pilot population of over 827,000 pilots in 1980. The tail end of that demographic bulge is passing through today in the 2010s (guys like me who learned to fly in the mid-70s), and we’ll never see the likes of that bulge again.

    It’s not because flying is somehow less attractive, or because of social media.

    It’s because of demographics and military history!

    In any event, we private pilots generally don’t do a lot of talking, on social media or elsewhere, about the negatives of flight risk anyway … actually, it’s just the opposite, in our natures, with most of us currently active pilots generally downplaying if not ignoring real flight risks so as to justify (to ourselves, and to ur families), whether reasonably or unreasonably, our desire to continue flying. We do it because we’re hooked, not because it’s all that sensible.

  • Gary’s spot on here. As another commenter noted, the problem isn’t just with FaceBook. It’s the media generally, and as Gary points out, how we pilots react to our non-pilot friends re aircraft incidents, and negative media reports, is what’s crucial. I blame the media because they’ll pick up on a minor aircraft incident and publish it far and wide; there could be a significant car accident with several people losing their lives, and you’re lucky if it would be a little box article on p.17 of the newspaper. An airplane that makes a forced landing could likely be on the front page. So if the media only reports accidents and incidents, is the public likely to have a good impression of small airplanes? As Gary points out, there are too few articles and publicity about all the good that pilots and their small airplanes do, to benefit the community. The public only hears about the bad stuff. So how are they to think otherwise? Do you ever see a front page headline, “There were over a million safe, successful takeoffs, landings, and flights last year at airports throughout the U.S.”? Doubt it!

    What really gets me mad is when a friend or coworker says to me, “I was thinking about you the other day, when I heard about that airplane accident.” I always reply to them, “I hope you think about me when you see a beautiful Cessna overhead, surrounded by big, beautiful, puffy clouds, making an approach to that airport near you.” Gets ’em every time.

  • I have a Facebook account and use it occasionally but never promote my aviation activities on Facebook. I fear the wrong people may get information where I am traveling and visiting. Keeping ones personal information private is necessary. I do keep my friends informed about my aviation activities via eMails, and old fashion phone calls and letters. I also file flight plans for trips out of the local area. I wish there was a way to keep IFR flight plans and flight following, in some cases, from the general public on flight aware.

  • This is a particularly bad piece of advice. You cannot hide the inherent dangers of flying from the public by merely suppressing mentions on Facebook. Anytime there is a GA accident – and unfortunately there are far too many, far too often – it makes national TV news. As Richard Collins’ latest blog post shows, the GA accident rate has remained pretty much steady over the last few decades.

    As pilots, it is our responsibility to do everything we can to reduce the GA accident rate. Whether we share it on Facebook or not is immaterial.

    • Shyam,

      One of the best parts about these articles is thta allows people to disagree but stay respectful of the others opinions. My intent is not that we should “hide” accidents but to promote the positive side of GA more.

      Fly Safe!

      Gary

  • Gary: Here is what you said in the article: “The three items are simple: Don’t share bad news, share only good news and share the beauty we see.” I read “don’t share bad news” to mean hide the bad news. Am I wrong?

    You have a simplistic assumption that if only pilots will stop sharing bad news, the public will not get to know it from other sources. Consider how flawed this assumption is. A plane crash leads the evening news, no matter what. Even a successful off airfield landing is reported as a plane crash where the pilot survived. You need to tell evening news outlets to please not report on airplane crashes since it tarnished the GA reputation! Facebook is not the leading source of bad news about GA. Mainstream media (TV, radio, newspapers) are. And we, the pilots, are the source of 100% of the bad news.

    See Richard Collins’ excellent blog post on the problem with GA safety stats. We need to do everything possible to make GA safer, such as better WX awareness and training, better MX, safer airplanes (think chutes and auto-land), better airmanship training etc. Still, flying is a long way from being as safe as driving, due to the inherent complexity of aviation. I like the recent demo by Diamond of self-landing aircraft in case of trouble. Now, that’s innovation.

    Fly safe, and have fun.

  • Gary,
    As a CFI, you have the additional FAA mandated responsibility to talk about aviation safety, and discuss the accidents and their causes. There is simply no way to bury the bad news. I am reproducing here two points from Richard Collins’ excellent blog on Aviation Myths, that directly apply to this discussion:

    “The Big Lie
    ==========

    Fatal accident rate
    ==============
    The GA accident rate has been flat for over a decade.

    Those are the words used when referring to the old myth about the drive to the airport being the most dangerous part of the journey. That is a myth that has been around for a long time and I think it is good that the FAA is telling CFIs to dispel that myth.

    The current discussion of safety is the most realistic one I have seen in a CFI course (I use Gleim) and points out that the accident rate has been stable since 1999 even though the FAA’s goal was to reduce that rate by 10-percent from 2009 to 2018. The new technology available to pilots and controllers is noted as not resulting in any safety improvement.

    The material points out that from 1939 to 1969 the fatal accident rate dropped by 76-percent and from 1969 to 1999 it dropped by 55-percent. They offer no opinion on why it hasn’t improved since 1999 but the suggestion that CFIs need to work on this is pretty clear. Private flying is simply much more hazardous than driving as well as being more hazardous than it should be.

    Talking About Accidents Is Bad
    ==========================

    That is a popular thought among some pilots, but the CFI course points out that accident analysis is an important but often overlooked CFI task. The word seems to be that the accidents are what hurt aviation and that once they occur, pilots need to learn from the mistakes that others make. So, to those who just don’t want to hear about accidents or safety, the FAA seems to be joining many of us in telling pilots to get their head out of the sand and face the realities of flying. If you don’t do it correctly and carefully, it’ll kill you quickly. That isn’t a secret that can be kept from the public.”

  • Every since I’ve been a kid I have been fascinated with airplanes and motorcycles, When I was 14 I got my first cycle. It took a bit longer for my first plane. I realize that both these things I do are not considered the most safe, but at 73 years old I still enjoy both of them. After 48 years as pilot I still do not elaborate on the safety of flying. It is just one of those things I do no talk about to other people or my loved ones. Maybe I am being selfish, or whatever, but I love flying so I will dismiss the danger. After all this time I have never had an accident or incident in either the airplane or the motorcycle. Maybe I have been lucky, or maybe skillfull, either way, I am not going to quit. But I do feel we should not publicize the danger difference between flying and driving.

      • Gary,
        As a CFII, you are doing a disservice to the aviation community by your campaign to bury the bad news about aviation. You are required by FAA to discuss accidents and their root causes.

        Maybe I should contact the FAA about you. What is your CFI #?

        • We love the vigorous debate here at Air Facts – it’s one of our defining features. But another defining feature is that we are always civil about it. Let’s keep it that way.

          • There is nothing uncivil in my comment above. I am serious about the negative implications of Gary’s campaign to bury the bad news about aviation. This is irresponsible for a CFI to say that. See Richard Collins’s column about the responsibilities of a CFI.

          • I think Gary is trying to make a distinction between sharing accident reports among pilots and sharing them with the public at large. That’s a valid distinction, even if you disagree with it. Asking for a CFI number is a bit much.

        • Your tone is combative and your request absurd. The FAA may require a CFI to discuss accidents and root causes with STUDENTS and PILOTS. Show me exactly where they require a CFI to be some sort of PR person to the general public. Calling Mr. Reeves out and threatening to “turn him in” is way, way off base.

  • I agree with Chris, Duane, and Shyam – this is a terrible article and ham-handed “advice”. I will take no such pledge to cover up GA accidents, and suggest the readers here do not either.

    Imagine in the medical field all doctors saying “patients worry too much over surgery, we won’t talk about any sort of bad things,” and forming an explicit agreement to hide complications? Sorry, this does not fly (pun intended). Fortunately we have moved out of the stone ages with medicine and we address patient safety head on.

    Get your head out of the sand. Explaining that airplanes don’t “just crash” and acknowledging our (pilots) role in them, or most of them, will increase the confidence that the flying public has regarding the safety of small planes, and shows responsibility. Agreeing to not talk about safety or discuss mishaps, with a pledge dripping with arrogant condescension for those not in our “little club” or our “proud group?”

    Nope, count me out.

  • Who said anything about “covering up” GA accidents?? Trust me, our friends and family will hear all about it from any number of sources – including other peoples’ Facebook posts. I think what Gary is advocating here is that we don’t contribute to the imbalance that already exists. And perhaps to even help shift the balance by sharing the positive stuff.

    I think if we look at it objectively, sharing things on Facebook is largely an ego-feeding exercise anyway – we want to be seen having knowledge about something (I imagine… I don’t have Facebook for this and other reasons). But just because we know a thing doesn’t mean we have to vocalize it. So that said, since its a personal choice to do so, we can choose to anticipate whether if we “can” say something, “should” we? Dunno, its rarely black and white like anything, but I am thinking that was sort of the idea here.

    I am sure as a CFII he does plenty to encourage and discuss safety with his paying students, but I think we can all separate that from his role here as a journalist sharing an opinion piece and cut him a little slack – this isn’t the forum for that, and you can learn all about safety and root causes etc on the NTSB site and many others.

    All of which, of course, is my opinion and worth exactly what it costs 🙂

    • From the article:
      “The first item is the most important. We must all agree to not post, share, re-share and tweet accident stories and aviation problems.”

      As others have noted this is equivalent to covering up accidents.

      Why let others control the narrative? The real pilots sit by silently while the conspiracy theorists run amok because we “shouldn’t post, share… aviation problems?” The idea is ludicrous and putting head in the sand.

      Good pilots acknowledge and address aviation problems, let the public, as well as student pilots, know that the risk is manageable and accepted, and that we don’t run away from the idea of any problems in aviation. We are ambassadors to aviation.

      Again the advice of Reeves is anathema to the piloting instruction and ethos that I received, and I’m thankful that most others do not share the views. I respect his decision to remain silent regarding accidents and safety, but don’t try to tell pilots that it is in our best interest, or in the interest of GA, to follow suit.

  • Adam,

    I very much appreciate your comments. The point of my story really is that we should promote the great things about aviation more than the small number of tragedies. Thanks for reading and commenting,

    Fly Safe!
    G

    • “The point of my story really is that we should promote the great things about aviation more than the small number of tragedies.”

      I agree with you here. That is not the same as what you said in the article, but perhaps something was lost in the exposition. We can not and should not ignore tragedies, but we can talk about how rare they are with the public. This is part of addressing the privilege and problems with GA head on. Of course tragedies will get more attention in the media, nobody can resist looking at a fireball.

      Same thing with auto crashes (rubbernecking), sex scandals, or other salacious stories – they attract attention. Ignoring them just makes somebody else control the story. I’d rather have a real pilot commenting on an aviation issue than some crank because the real pilots are remaining silent for some irrational fear of making GA look bad.

  • Mr Reeves,
    Great article! The problem with social media is there is little to control the hyperbole once it starts. I think you are spot on in the way we share information. Speaking to students and pilots is entirely different than speaking to the general public that may have little understanding of the risks and how they are managed.

  • You are right, some stories can be understood just by pilots. If we talk about it on open social network like facebook or twitter, normal people might not understand it. Their reaction will be to be scared.

    That is the reason I left facebook long time ago and moved to niche social network designed for pilots like aviation faces

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *