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Bloomberg News Publishes NBAA’s Response to Misleading Story on Business Aviation Safety

May 21, 2015

On May 14, the Bloomberg news organization published an article about business aviation accident rates, which distorted the industry’s safety record. Although NBAA provided two staff for interviews with the story’s author, and connected the reporter with a widely respected authority on business aviation safety, the comments from the NBAA representatives, as well as the remarks and data provide by the safety expert, were excluded entirely from the story. On the day the article appeared, NBAA authored and submitted a forceful response letter, which took a stand for accuracy in business aviation safety coverage. Bloomberg’s editors ultimately published the letter in its entirety on the organization’s newswire; below is a copy of NBAA’s letter.

Business Aviation Safety Comparable to Airlines: Ed Bolen

May 19, 2015

To the Editors

On behalf of the more than 10,000 Members of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), we believe your May 14 story, “As corporate plane crashes mount, the pattern of pilot error emerges,” distorts the true record on the safety of business aviation pilots, and the industry overall.

For starters, Bloomberg readers were never told that business aviation shares a safety record comparable to that of commercial airlines, and that one of the most significant factors underlying this outstanding record is the industry's stringent pilot-training practices.

Business aviation flight departments commonly require more experience than the 1,500-hour minimum required for new-pilot hires by the airlines, as well as the highest pilot training and medical certifications available. Like airline pilots, those in business aviation must undergo recurrent training, and they do so in the same types of training simulators used by the airlines.

In business aviation, rigorous training is coupled with leading-edge onboard technologies that further enhance safety. Business aircraft flown by many operators are typically as sophisticated–and often, even more so – than aircraft flown by the airlines, featuring cockpit technology that let pilots see through clouds and fog, and autopilots smart enough to initiate a descent if an aircraft cabin depressurizes.

These realities about business aviation training and technology were largely missing from the story; also missing was a clear explanation of how a mission profile for business aviation differs appreciably from one for the airlines – a significant consideration in any overview of aviation safety.

Specifically, the largely homogenous commercial airline segment conducts the same operations to the same airports, day-after-day. By contrast, business aviation operators often face new missions to new airports on a daily basis. Each business aviation flight may take the pilot(s) to a new airport, presenting new potential risks to be analyzed and mitigated. These destinations may not offer the same robust reporting provided at the major airline hubs for factors such as runway conditions and outages, weather updates, available services, and other aspects unique to the mostly small airports used by business aircraft.

Lastly, and perhaps most egregiously, in attempting to quantify the business aviation safety record, the writer appears to have chosen a data set that arguably does not provide the clearest, most comprehensive possible picture on the matter.

A truly comprehensive data set, like that provided by Robert E. Breiling and Associates, utilizes information from more than a dozen sources – including the FAA, operators, manufacturers, insurance agencies, and others – to provide a true, apples-to-apples comparison of incidents involving flights taken specifically for a business purpose, not just in the U.S., but around the world.

Other news organizations that have covered business aviation safety have routinely found Breiling to be a credible authority on the matter, but despite the availability of Breiling’s data for this story, the writer ultimately chose to set aside the information. 

NBAA and its Member Companies understand all too well that one aviation accident is too many, and that the industry must continually learn from the lessons accidents provide, and work to find ways to avoid similar future tragedies.

That said, the story’s lop-sided view of business aviation left out important information about what goes into making business aviation one of the safest forms of transportation, which routinely, reliably delivers many thousands of businesspeople to their destinations each year.