Air Transport World

A swarm of experts. (airline industry's so-called experts)

IN THE MOVIE "BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID," the infamous outlaws were amazed by the dogged pursuit of a posse they couldn't seem to shake and asked the question: "Who are those guys?" Aviation professionals may ask the same question of the growing number of "experts" who turn up to fight for media exposure in the wake of airline accidents.

Nance, Smith, Frankowski, Prest, Fleming, O'Brien, Hagy, Stempler, Janssens, Barnett, Witkowski, Miller, Williams are some of the names a apearing in newspapers or on television and radio, most recently after last year's spate of U.S. airline accidents.

Some are highly respected and widely recognized. Others are merely recognized. Some serve the cause of safety with distinction. Some seem to serve themselves. What separates these experts from the kind of work done by NTSB or Flight Safety Foundation is degree of self-interest.

None, however, has created more controversy than David Stempler, executive director of a group known as the International Airline Passengers Assn., whose pronouncements, visibility and credentials have brought the entire group into question.

Stempler grabbed national and international attention most recently by advising his members to avoid 30-and-fewer-seat "commuter" aircraft, using an unsubstantiated and largely unseen study compiled from secret sources with the help of anonymous safety analysts as the grounds for proclaiming these aircraft to be "the real hazard." Then, in a gadfly mode, Stempler and IAPA urged the closure of Washington National Airport--shifting civil operations to nearby Andrews Air Force Base--to protect the White House and other federal installations after an apparently intoxicated and disturbed pilot last year crashed his light airplane into the executive mansion. The flight originated from an airport 50 mi. o the north, and had no contact with National.

Stempler acts as IAPA's spokesman out of its Washington office, one of five IAPA addresses worldwide. IAPA, which boasts 110,000 regular and 350,000 associate members, has main service centers in Dallas, London and Hong Kong.

Stempler himself is a study in contrasts. He is affable, yet argumentative; articulate, yet vague; defender of air safety, yet defensive when asked to qualify his assertions about it. Lately, his defensive talents have been put to the test.

After his "avoid commuters" warning, critics charged that IAPA is less a consumer-advocacy group than a broker of flight insurance, sold as a prerequisite to membership, creating a profit motive for spreading fear. Stempler said: "That assumption is absolutely, totally incorrect. We have a non insurance membership level."

But IAPA's brochure lists no such non insurance membership plan among its four membership levels. …

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