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Few television newsrooms can assign a reporter to covering aviation full time, but no newsroom can afford to ignore the beat, especially these days. It's never been easy to sort out who's responsible for what in the aviation area, and that's only become more difficult since the Transportation Security Agency became part of the mix.

To help journalists cover aviation issues and security, Tara Hamilton of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority developed this guide for NewsLab. We've also posted useful links for covering aviation. And check this tip sheet on covering plane crashes.


  • Know who runs your airport: the city, county or a regional authority. Regional authorities often have more independence in dealing with the news media than city or county-run airports. (Directory of airport Web sites, by state.)
  • Know what the airport is responsible for: operating the airport, providing services ranging from parking to newsstands, and undertaking massive capital construction programs. It is not responsible for aircraft nor for all safety and security requirements.
  • Know your airport's operations. Is it a hub, an O&D airport? Is there an FBO and how much of the business is local? If these terms are foreign to you, you don't know your airport. Check this list of key terms to find out.
  • Find out what the ground rules are for parking your news vehicles during regular coverage and emergency situations. Know where you can shoot video in the terminals.
  • Get to know your airport better. Contact the media relations office to get on their media contact list and to request a tour and an opportunity to get generic b-roll. See if you can also visit the airport operations or command center. Invite the airport director and media staff to visit your station for a getting-to-know-you conversation.
  • Know what the airline controls: The space they lease, both on the ramp area (aircraft parking area) and in the terminals, is considered their private property. Media requests to access ticket counter or gate areas often must be directed to the specific airline that leases that area.
  • Airlines are responsible for the service the passenger receives when he or she arrives at the ticket counter, waits at the gate area, boards the aircraft and is in flight. Airports will not usually comment on those topics unless the airport is involved in an emergency or criminal situation involving the aircraft or passengers.
  • Know which airlines service your airport. (Directory of airline Web sites.) Most airline corporate communications offices have 24-hour numbers and contacts. Create a list and make it available to the entire newsroom. Some provide taped messages in the early hours of an emergency situation to give the media some basic information.
The Federal Government
  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for licensing pilots, airlines, and airports for certain operations. The FAA also operates the Air Traffic Control System, which directs all the aircraft that fly across the country. The FAA is the source for information about weather delays, airport conditions, runway safety, unruly passengers, even airplane collisions with birds.
  • The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created by Congress to oversee security of all transportation systems, not just aviation, in the country. Its first year of existence, however, has focused on aviation and on putting in place a security screening system carried out by federal TSA employees (eventually) in all 429 commercial airports in the country. The TSA can provide information about the federal takeover of security screening at your airport and the status of screening equipment.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency which investigates every civil aviation accident in the United States and significant accidents in the other modes of transportation -- railroad, highway, marine and pipeline -- and issues safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents. Airports and airlines will work closely with the NTSB in responding to media inquiries after an accident. The NTSB website contains helpful information about media access to accident information.
Key Terms


Hub: An airport where an airline has a major presence of flights in order to facilitate connecting and originating traffic.

FBO: Fixed base operator: Private company that offers a range of aviation services like selling fuel, doing maintenance, providing flight instruction, chartering planes and so forth. Check this list of local FBOs.

Load factor: The percentage of available seats that are filled with paying passengers, or the percent of freight capacity that is used.

Market share: The volume of sales, expressed as a percentage, achieved by one company in a specific geographic area, compared to all sales of similar proceeds or of similar companies.

Meeters and greeters: Term for people who come to the airport but don't get on an aircraft.

Gate: The area in the airport terminal or concourse where passengers wait to board the aircraft.

Jetbridge: The bridge that passengers walk on from the gate area onto or off of the aircraft, usually enclosed.

Non-stop vs. direct flights: A flight that goes from one city to another without stopping vs. one plane that goes from one city to another but makes an intermediate stop.

O&D: Origin and destination. O&D airports like Reagan National Airport in Washington mainly serve flights that originate or terminate there, as distinct from connecting flights that go on to another destination.

Open skies: Refers to an agreement between two countries allowing unrestricted air services between them.

Carrier: One of the major airline carriers, operating the larger jet aircraft.

Regional carrier: An airline with annual operating revenues of less than $100 million.

Regional jet: A smaller jet powered aircraft, typically 50 seats or fewer.

Shuttle: A short-haul high frequency service usually scheduled every hour.

Slots: Take off and landing berths at certain airports, which are strictly allotted at certain times of the day due to congestion.

Page Last Updated
January 15, 2009

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