Willfully distracted and pointlessly engaged

My local coffee shop has been abuzz with conversations about the same top news story that’s dominated the chatter at yours, I’m sure: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It seems every news channel on television has dedicated untold hours of coverage to the story, while newspapers have filled innumerable column inches with every rumor that comes down the pike.

Understandably, the folks who gather at my table each morning explore the possibilities, too. And eventually the question comes to me. “Hey Jamie, do you think that’s what happened?”

It doesn’t really matter what “that” might be, my answer is always the same. I simply say, “I don’t know.” Because I really don’t know. Neither does anybody else, frankly. But that doesn’t seem to stop them from airing hour after hour of coverage on an issue that could be covered in less than three minutes.

An airplane crash is a tragic thing. Whether it takes one life or hundreds, it’s a sad reality that we as a people have to find a way to come to grips with. And we will, eventually.

The hijacking of an airplane is scary, too. As is the idea that a pilot might abscond with an airplane, take it to an unexpected location, and turn it over to others who intend to do bad things with it.

All three of those scenarios are worrisome. All three of those scenarios are plausible. All three of those scenarios are entirely beyond our control, too.

No matter how much time we devote to the story, regardless of how distracted we become by every new detail or bit of hearsay that comes along, we will not affect the outcome of the story one little bit.

Let’s shift gears for a moment. Let’s consider some aviation news that would benefit from our involvement.

The controversial closure talk at Santa Monica Municipal Airport rages on. Bill Dunn, vice president of airport advocacy at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, has traveled to this beautiful jewel of a southern California town often enough that he should probably just get an apartment there and work the rest of the country remotely. He’s engaged.

Many California-based pilots are motivated to assure continued operations at Santa Monica. Even east coasters like me are interested. I toured the field and spent time with the airport manager in October and can tell you it’s a well populated facility that absolutely benefits the community that surrounds it.

However, you’ll not see a word about this airport battle on your television tonight. Nor will you read about it in your newspaper.

Ironically, it is these issues we have a vested interest in that we hear the least about. The idea of shutting down a historic airport that serves a vital function isn’t interesting to news producers or newspaper editors. They deem it unnewsworthy. Certainly not as newsworthy as the mysterious disappearance of an airplane that we know virtually nothing about.

In a nutshell, we allow the news to inundate us with hours of nothing, but make no demand of them to provide us with coverage of something that actually impacts our lives, our jobs, or the industry we work in.

Is it just me or does that seem a little nuts to you?

This week I will be appearing before my city commission, again. My hope is to get them to adopt a five point plan our airport advisory committee has identified as being necessary to provide the airport with a safe and bright future.

As the chairman of the airport advisory committee, it’s my responsibility to carry this request to City Hall, advocate for it, answer questions, motivate the commissioners, and do what I can to get five non-aviation minded individuals to realize that owning an airport does not equate to owning a successful airport. Action has to be taken, a good management team must be in place, and a plan for success has to be fleshed out.

Although the airport advisory committee has been working toward this goal for a year, there has not been a word of it in the news. Even though this plan has come before the commission before to make them aware of the request that they take action, the newspaper has not included coverage. Hmmm.

With all this in mind, it begs the question: Are we being distracted from the real issues that affect us, or are we willingly engaged in pointless supposition rather than in productive efforts to promote and enhance aviation in our own communities?

If this most recent aviation mystery has taught us anything it is this: The most watched and read news outlets in the world are woefully ignorant of a means of transportation that has been with us for a century. They don’t understand the industry, or the technology, or the people who operate the machinery involved in any aspect of flight.

We could change that if we chose to. We could have a positive impact on our communities if we were more active and engaged. Or we can continue to be distracted by things that we will never be able to affect one way or the other.

The choice is ours. I sincerely hope you will take that reality seriously and engage yourself accordingly.



  1. Matt says

    What you’re saying is, “Why don’t people forget about the incident where 239 people have died, with possibly major implications for worldwide aviation, and instead talk about an airport which 99% of the world will never see, let alone set foot in.”

    The assertion that people in coffee shops should care more about Santa Monica Airport, and what it means to a relatively tiny group of people, than an aviation disaster with mass loss of life is nonsensical.

    Wild speculation about the flight’s fate (which has been admittedly out of control) aside, what you’re arguing is incredibly ridiculous. The fate of Santa Monica is absolutely meaningless compared to the tragedy of Flight 370. Try telling the families of the victims that the state of a Hollywood airport is more important than the fate of their loved ones.

    Honestly, Jamie, I have no idea why Aviation eBrief links to your column sometimes.

  2. says

    I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve been asked about MH370. I say the same thing: “I don’t know what happened. And neither does anyone else.”

    It seems this phenomenon is part of the ever-declining attention span of our generation, the incessant need for answers NOW being met by a cable and internet news industry that has more information outlets than actual information.

    Whatever happened to that flight, it’s done. Meanwhile a major piece of our infrastructure is about to be ripped apart. We should be focusing on SMO, because we lost the battle at Meigs. If SMO goes the same way, I’m sure the trend of airport closures will only accelerate.

  3. David Robison says

    From my point of view, these are all rhetorical questions and they are applicable to most all areas that hold significant merit. In deed we are purposely overwhelmed by information that has no real meaning or value and the masses live for it. It’s a crying shame that the majority enable and encourage such things and the few that appose it are minimized and/or quashed all together. I would say expect more of the same, however, continue to be a valid champion for the those who really care about what matters most.

  4. Jim Klick says

    Unfortunately, this is another example of proof of my theory that the vast majority of the people
    in this country are incredibly stupid.
    The other evidence is the people we elect to public office, and the drivel that is popular in
    mass media.

  5. margy bloom says

    Great article. I just posted it on my FB page. I’ve purposely avoided TV and newspaper reporting on the crash, because they simply do not understand it, they hypothesize and generalize and feed into alarmist theories that probably have no merit beyond audience building. The Telegraph in the UK actually used a 747 to illustrate the article about the 777 crash. (They quickly took it down.) Endlessly frustrating. Thanks for reading my mind. Ditto on Santa Monica Airport.

  6. lindsay petre says

    I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Economic hemmorhaging, not so sexy.

  7. Greg Curtis says

    The national news media is not interested in the Santa Monica Airport problem because it requires them to learn something in order to properly, non-biasly report the situation facing the communities around the airport. Flight 370 allows them to make the news to fit their revue stream to ensure continued operation with little expense on research. All they need to do is speculate and make it appear as the latest information on what has happened to the aircraft.
    I too am not distracted by the events of flight 370. I can wait for the experts to find the wreckage (possibly) and through thorough investigation determine what happened. It will take some time and it will dropped from the news headlines, but there is a very good possibility we will learn what happened.

  8. Mark LeRoy says

    Well written Jamie. It is disappointing that most of our society is consumed by media’s distractions & pointless (endless also) engagement. Media could do a much better job.

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