Last month saw four aviation incidents involving jet powered airlines. Three of those are probably familiar to most readers of this blog: first there was the crash of Asiana Airlines flight HL7742 at San Francisco. Second there was the fire aboard an Ethiopian Airlines 787 parked at London Heathrow. The third incident was Southwest Airlines flight SWA345, which suffered a collapse of the nose gear while landing at La Guardia airport near New York.
The fourth incident was the belly landing of a Superjet 100-95 with registration 97005, during a test flight at Keflavik airport, near Reykjavik. If you’ve heard of this last one, you probably follow the specialised aviation news. Although it got some coverage there, it almost completely seemed to have escaped the mainstream news media.
To check whether my feeling on the matter was correct I performed a small survey, searching both on Google News (news.google.com) and Newslibrary.com, a database of print newspaper articles. On both sites I searched for ‘Asiana airlines crash San Francisco’, ‘Dreamliner Heathrow fire’, ‘Superjet Reykjavik’ and ‘Southwest crash La Guardia’. I limited the search to the range 1 July – 11 August.
Unsurprisingly (as it was the only accident resulting in fatalities) flight HL7742 scored highest with 27,800 hits on Google News and 2592 on Newslibrary. The Superjet managed just 54 hits on Google (adding the word ‘crash’ to the search makes the results even worse, probably because non-English publications are then not found) and a measly 2 on Newslibrary. One hit was an article from the website newsmax.com and the other was a transcript of a Russian news broadcast. A comparison with the other incidents is shown below.
The Superjet accident is a nice reminder that the news media forms our window on the world, and like all windows, unless you look really closely, it cuts your view off at the edges. Our view of what is going on is shaped by the media. How important we think certain incidents are, or if we even are aware of them at all, is determined by the editorial decisions made by journalists and editors across the world. The media colours our perception of how rare or commonplace events are, and it’s important to remember this when trusting gut feeling instead of trying to find proper statistics.