By MEG GODLEWSKI
John Trissel, manager of Waynesboro-Eagles Nest Airpark (W13) in Virginia, thought a CBS news crew was at the airport to do a story about life on an airpark. But when they turned the camera on him, the questions were not about airpark living, but about security at general aviation airports. The story, which aired on the CBS Evening News Tuesday, Jan. 14, gave the impression small airports are attractive to terrorists because of their lack of security. Trissel said the story was set up through a realtor who handles the airpark. Reporter Bob Orr was accompanied by a photographer, and two other people. They spent approximately five hours at the airpark.
“When they got here they told the realtor to pretend like she was selling a house,” he said. “So they walked through a brand new house and she gave them the sales pitch just like she would a prospective buyer. While they were taking the tour she got wind this really wasn’t going to be a story about living with your plane. They were saying things like ‘there’s no fence!’, then they said they wanted to talk to me.” Trissel asked if they could discuss the interview before the camera started rolling.
“They told me ‘we don’t do that because then it makes the interviews looked staged’,” he said. “Instead they loaded up the camera and stuck me in front of it for 45 minutes. They asked me one question after another, just a barrage, and then, as you saw, it was reduced down to a few quick statements.” Trissel quickly became aware the story was about airport security. “They would ask a question and phrase it in such a way it was a yes or no answer. They asked ‘have you been mandated to do anything? Don’t you screen baggage or have metal detectors or require photo ID cards for access to the ramp?’ and I said ‘no we don’t, but what we do have isÖ’ but all that part got cut. They did not want to hear. It was not their agenda.”
Trissel told them about the locked hangars and the use of prop locks on four out of the 54 planes on the ramp. He also told them about the motion detectors on the ramp that are tied to alarm systems inside the homes, but that information, along with the fact the airpark is a gated community, was edited out.
Trissel is displeased that CBS portrayed him as an expert on GA airport security.
“I definitely am not,” he said. “I manage this airport and we follow the security guidelines set forth by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. If they wanted an expert on security at GA airports, they should have gone to AOPA, but they didn’t. No doubt in my mind they came here with the story written. They just needed the pictures and to get somebody to talk. They set me up as an authority on GA security to legitimize their scam.”
When he saw the story on the air Trissel was devastated. “I have spent my life in general aviation and the way it was portrayed it made me look like I was blowing the whistle on GA,” he said. “I can’t tell you how that crushed me. This is not a terrorist haven, for crying out loud! It’s the sensationalism of the airplane that they chose to do.”
After the story aired, Trissel received approximately 200 hateful emails from around the country. “The pilots who fly here knew I had not set out to give GA a black eye, but those that don’t know us from Adam jumped to that conclusion,” he said. “Maybe I should have refused to talk to them, but as one person said to me, ‘when you talked to them, you were Andy Griffith. If you had walked away, you would have been Barney Fife’.”