Debunking Indian media’s sensationalist aviation reporting

When it comes to aviation reporting, the some papers and TV channels of the mainstream India media are world leaders in sensationalism, hype, and scare-mongering.

Regardless of the situation, even for the most minor and routine aviation incident, the opening para will contain a phrase similar to “Passengers had a miraculous escape” and “cheated death”.

So rampant is the frenzy to gain eyeballs, that facts just don’t matter. Lets scare the viewer or reader. After all thrillers sell.

God forbid if the incident is a case of “go-around” where a plane has to abort its landing as the runway is not clear. Then it is absolute pandemonium.

Let’s forget the fact that in India the separation is a whopping two full minutes compared to the 45 seconds at many major airports. At London Heathrow. New La Guardia, and many busy airports, it is routine for a flight to receive its landing clearance less than 30 seconds before touchdown, whereas in India landing clearance is typically given at 90 to 60 seconds.

“Go arounds” are routine

The video below excellently illustrates a “go-around” situation in the cockpit of the behemoth Boeing 747 jumbo-jet.

At Miami airport, an Atlas Air cargo flight (call-sign “Giant 955”) Boeing 747 is approaching the runway to land. Ahead of it a Mexicana airlines Airbus A319 (call-sign “Mehicana 307”) has just landed. As does happen occasionally, the Mexicana jet does not exit the runway in time and at around 60 feet altitude, the height of a five storey building, Giant 955 initiates a go around.

Hear the calm and cool way the pilots of the Atlas Air 747 and the air traffic controller handle the situation, even joking about the incident as the video closes.

Externally the go-around would have looked similar to the case of this United Airlines Boeing 747 performing a go-around at New York’s John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport or these FedEx Boeing 777s at Anchorage.

A plane can take-off on one engine

The loss of an engine is a significant event, but nothing to panic about. For every take-off the V1 or decision speed is calculated. Before reaching V1 a pilot can abort the take-off. Once V1 is achieved the plane must take-off for there is insufficient runway length left to stop the plane.

Every aircraft is tested and certified to take-off with one engine failed. This applies to even twin engined aircraft.

At Manchester a Thomas Cook Airbus A330 is forced to abort its take-off after its right engine fails.

And the world remembers this famous video of a Thompson Airways Boeing 757 flight 253H losing its right engine due to a bird ingestion right at lift-off.

Airline pilots are professionals

Airlines spend lots of money training their pilots to deal with virtually every emergency. As a result pilots perform their jobs with cool and calm professionalism, even in some of the most extreme emergencies. Like this Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 G-VROM landing with one main landing gear not lowering.

Or this LOT Polish Airlines Boeing 767 doing a belly landing when the landing gear gets stuck

Or these British Airways pilots of flight BA2276 at Las Vegas where the engine on their Boeing 777 catches fire.

Learn from other news organisations

In June 2011, two wide-body jets, an Egypt Air Boeing 777 and a Lufthansa A340 were involved in a near miss at JFK airport. The ATC audio is below.

Indian news media would do well to learn from their American counterparts. Not that they are completely immune from trying to sensationalise.

However, compare the American news report with one from India and this was a simple case of a smaller Boeing 737 getting caught in the wake-turbulence of a larger Boeing 747 ahead. How did this become a “near mid-air collision”? Also observe how passengers, conditioned by years of sensationalism put their own twist to over-dramatise the incident.

Share your thoughts on this subject via a comment.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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  1. First of all, ATC must have given a heads up about the larger bird take off prior to 738’s take off roll. But the media guys don’t have any clue what the hell goes on here! Can we expect a full hour debate based on this? !! The NATION WANTS an answer!!!! :P:P Although would like to know which 747 is that!

    • Absolutely. In Bangalore, whenever a heavy takes off, the aircraft behind is made to hold for 2 minutes before clearance to reach the 5 mile separation. That even holds for the Blue Dart 757s and as you know the 757 is notorious for its wake turbulence.

  2. Hi Devesh, you’re being a bit unfair to Indian media – you’re comparing the cool calm ATC communications with the sensationalised Indian media.

    Nobody can claim even the American media to be non-sensational. Please look at American MEDIA recordings and you won’t find much difference in sensationalism and claims.

    • Actually, if you read till the end, I have compared the two “Indian news media would do well to learn from their American
      counterparts. Not that they are completely immune from trying to
      sensationalise.” and I have shown the original ATC records next to the NBC news report.

      But there is a limit. American news media do sensationalise but they know their limits. In India, there don’t seem to be any.

  3. They are experts in making mountain of a mole hill!

  4. Indian media still refuse to use HD cameras!

    What the hell is wrong with them?

    Even mobile phones today can record in 1080p resolution HD.

  5. IMHO these false reports are intentional and paid/rewarded by competitors. AI has an additional element of union leaking out to biased/false information to Mumbai tabloids, picked up by world’s worst tabloids like Daily Mail, fed into international main stream media. Next morning CNN is covering the story.

    The AI405/VT-ESI/DEL/SEP-7-2015 incident is a prime example. If pilots union is not happy about A320 classics they should put their foot down and force management to take these out of service.

    Even though AI405 was a trivial incident, and flight crew acted professionally, followed SOP, because of a British novel writer covered by Daily Mail it became a international news event. Pilots union doing dirty laundry in public got bad name for airline and pilots didn’t any credit.

    Because of BA2276/GVIIO/LAS/SEP-8-2015 accident AI got some reprieve. Interestingly same Daily Mail praises BA/Pilots and as we speak entire English are working hard on pinning blame on GE for BA2276.

    Imagine if BA2276 ever happens to AI. Every aviation pundit will be blaming AI Engineering/management/finances…

    If it was just ignorance/lack of aviation knowledge Indian journalists would have learnt by now.

  6. This is the sickening reality of the Indian media… TIMES NOW leads the way in causing havoc amongst the Indian citizens. Always blows any matter out of proportion.

  7. Latest reports about last 6 AI B787 delivery are amazing. FYI: These 6 don’t have an agreed upon delivery schedule, no payment, hence no assigned slots.

    For few weeks Indian media was reporting AI going to delay last 6 deliveries. The word delay is irrelevant without a prior schedule. Everyone had a OMG moment, AI delaying deliveries, as if AI didn’t have enough wide bodies. If AI ever decides to delay last 6, good for them, $660 Million less debt.

    Now same Indian media reporting that AI is not going seek compensation from Boeing for the delay of these 6. Why would Boeing pay compensation for something AI didn’t even secure a delivery slot.

  8. thevoiceofindian

    Another Example of Media Sensation by TOI… Even though IAF never commented about the Runway closure, the headline reads “Unsafe Runway”…

  9. Devesh
    I won’t say you are unfair to Indian media but just look at CNN’s coverage of any air tragedy or near miss. It will blow your mind what lengths CNN goes to pack stupid in a day’s worth of TV programs. This is an actual question by Don Lemon during the MH370 saga: Do you think the plane encountered a black hole?. So NBC does tend to redeem itself but CNN and Fox is whole different ball game!