A little ignorance can go a long way. Unfortunately, a little ignorance coupled with a large megaphone can be downright dangerous. NBC's David Gregory, perhaps unwittingly, stepped through that door this morning on Meet the Press. While posing a question to Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, Gregory misspoke badly. Perhaps in an effort to frame his question more broadly than to focus specifically on yesterday's tragic mid-air collision between a single-engine airplane and a helicopter over the Hudson River, Gregory made reference to the, “...unregulated travel in the air in that particular corridor.”
Mr. Gregory, who has significant access to solid information at his disposal, as well as the ability to present authorities on virtually any topic of his choosing to the American public, stubbed his editorial toe on live television. In truth there is no unregulated travel in the air in that particular corridor. A fact that could have been quickly and easily established with a single phone call to an FAA office, an aviation advocacy group, or even a local flight school.
The sad truth is that even a quick Google search of that question would have turned up several sites explaining the various requirements to fly above the Hudson River in the vicinity of New York City. Among them is an excllent web page written by a self-described local pilot named, Scott Germaise. His well written page on flying the Hudson River is chock full of pertinent information on this exact topic, including several warnings for pilots who are unfamiliar with the area to use the appropriate charts and become thoroughly familiar with the area and its procedures before venturing into some of the most congested and highly regulated airspace in the country.
NBC's Gregory went on to ask New York's mayor, “Are there some changes that should be made about the fact that there can be such unregulated travel there.” A question that is doubly disturbing because it not only presents a fallacy as a fact, but it poses a question of aviation safety to a public official who has no particular expertise or responsibility for the activity the question focuses on.
Hat's off to Michael Bloomberg for answering an unprofessional, ill-informed question that was based almost entirely on ignorance and fear, in a cool, responsible manner. “Well the National Transportation Safety Board will do a complete investigation...” replied the mayor, who correctly informed the public that the FAA is responsible for the airspace above the United States. As the mayor rightly pointed out, it is they who, “...set these rules as to where you can fly.”
The tragedy that resulted in Saturday afternoon's loss of life is unfortunate. In the end the NTSB inquiry will almost certainly find that this accident was avoidable. The FAA will issue new warnings and/or regulations in response to those findings that will remind pilots and air-traffic controllers of the terrible cost of inattention in the air. But aviation will continue to be a common form of transportation. One that continues to operate with an enviable safety record, even in the face of tragic events like those that unfolded this weekend over the Hudson.
NBC on the other hand could take this opportunity to implement a policy of doing their homework before reporting on a story, and make it a hard and fast policy to present only facts as facts and opinions as only opinions. There is certainly a place for uniformed speculation on a nationally televised program, if for no other reason than to stimulate debate. But to frame total ignorance as the reporting of factual information is inexcusable from a news organization with a history as proudly earned as that once enjoyed by NBC. David Gregory should know better. And so should the producer who put this episode on the air.
Note: Jamie Beckett hold a Commercial Pilot's certificate issued by the FAA, as well as Flight and Ground Instructor ratings.