What brought about the heavy media coverage of the errors by air traffic controllers?
Print and electronic media made this their lead articles for days. Members of Congress demanded answers from the FAA and Department of Transportation. The top manager of air traffic at the FAA “resigned” and at least two controllers have been discharged. The FAA has changed controller work rules and added controllers at certain facilities. The controllers union and FAA are touring facilities to talk with controllers. This — and more — even though there were no fatalities, no accidents, no traffic delays.
The controllers were wrong, but errors are made by everyone. Newspapers make errors. Television and radio newscasts make errors. Hospitals and doctors make errors. Pilots make errors. There have been incidents of both crew members in a passenger-carrying airplane going to sleep and controllers trying to awaken them.
Why, then is there a media frenzy? Where these events occurred was the first issue to bring the actions to the foreground. It was Reagan Washington National Airport, a facility in an area where there is constant vigilance for security. Had this occurred any place else —and it no doubt has — there would have been little or no attention given by media.
Next, a medical flight with an ill person aboard was involved. Interest rose. And, in at least one incident, a prominent person was involved. More and more, the media sought out items, events, and people on which to report.
The controller issue had everything the media wants — who, what, where, and a reluctance — still — by many to accept flying. This became a rush for media to gather and report even the smallest items. I have worked for and with major print and electronic media since my junior year in high school and quickly learned news is what the media makes it. The primary point is to bring attention to subjects that will bring the biggest audiences.
Such is the workings of a free press and competitive efforts to get out information. All the competition and freedom to gain from it is what keeps media free. Other events will soon move the controller issue away from media interest. And hundreds of thousands of pilots will continue doing what they do regularly: Land safely at thousands of airports without talking to any controller.
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.