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As the editor-in-chief of AVweb, an aviation news site, Russ Niles is used to writing about stuff like Federal Aviation Administration announcements, the latest flight safety incident, or an airline’s plans to buy another airline. But this week, he scored a traffic hit by taking on a topic outside his usual purview: pop star—and noted private jet owner—Taylor Swift.
AVweb was one of the first sources to report that Swift had sold one of the two Falcon jets she owned, an item that was subsequently picked up far and wide. In covering the story, Niles discovered what many journalists before him already have: One surefire way to get more people to click on your piece is to put Swift’s name in the headline. Niles’ story racked up more than 700,000 pageviews, a number that would be impressive at a general-interest site like Slate, but is positively boffo for a niche aviation news operation.
“I don’t know exactly how the algorithms work,” Niles told me. “But on Monday, I checked Google and just typed ‘Taylor Swift’ into the search bar. My story was the sixth one down, and that was after she won Album of the Year and everything.”
Thanks to Swift’s presence at football games to cheer on her newish boyfriend, Travis Kelce, and his team, many sports reporters have effectively transformed into Taylor Swift reporters in recent months. Now it’s happening to the aviation reporters, too. Swift’s ability to dominate plane-related headlines is just the latest illustration of her inescapability. In truth, we’re all Taylor Swift reporters these days.
But the surplus of news stories involving Taylor Swift and her jets specifically has really been something else. When the Chiefs secured their spot in the Super Bowl in late January, it kicked off a wave of speculation about whether and how Swift would make it to the game in Las Vegas from Tokyo, where she was scheduled to be performing a stop on her concert tour the day before. The stories were unusually detailed, taking into account complicated elements like time zone differences and distances in nautical miles. “If her concert the night before had been in Portland or something like that, then nobody would have paid any attention to it,” Niles said, guessing as to why the story’s been so huge. “But it’s a private jet dashing through the night, right?”
Reporting is this vein has continued, getting ever more granular: Multiple stories in the last week have raised concerns about where Swift might park her plane given that Vegas-area airport slots for private jets are booked solid. (Don’t worry, she’ll be fine.) Curiously, the news, also reported by AVweb, that Swift chartered a plane to Japan rather than taking her own plane and seems likely to take a chartered flight back to the U.S. has gotten less pickup than other stories. “For long trips like that, then she generally charters, is what I understand,” Niles said.
Amid all the curiosity about transport to the big game, it then came out that Swift’s lawyers threatened legal action against a college student who maintains a social media account that tracks her and other celebrity planes’ comings and goings. Cue a whole ‘nother round of stories, plus a renewed discussion about the jet emissions that go along with Swift’s use of private planes. In October, Vulture and others on the internet playfully suggested that Swift’s attendance at a Jets-Chiefs game was a ploy to bury links to less favorable stories about her jet use on search engines. If there was any truth to that, consider it a rare L for Swift, because those jets are very much not buried.
“I think anyone would agree there’s public fascination with a lot of things that Taylor Swift is doing or that she does,” said Dan Hubbard, a spokesman for the National Business Aviation Association, a trade organization that represents companies that use private planes. “As has been well-documented, when she comes to a city on a concert tour, it has an economic impact in the city. She has apparently played stadiums where there are so many people in the stadium that it can be geologically measured. So there are just a lot of ways I think that she’s in the public eye.”
Hubbard agreed that one individual private jet changing ownership, for example, would not normally be considered newsworthy. “The NBAA has 11,000 member companies,” he said. “There are lots of companies that are using these airplanes, and I think you’re correct that you would not expect that there would be public attention on what 11,000 companies do with their airplanes. But of course, Taylor Swift is a noteworthy figure.”
Along with aviation reporters brushing up on all things Swift, many of Swift’s fans seem to be becoming armchair aviation experts. After I watched a TikTok video about Swift’s charter flight to Japan, I noticed users in the comments explaining her choice in the kind of matter-of-fact tones that might normally come with extensive knowledge of planes and flying: “Her jet isn’t able to make such a long fight [sic], it doesn’t carry enough fuel,” read one such comment, and while it’s theoretically possible that a bunch of pilots chimed in, it seems far more likely that Swifties had simply been reading up on business jets’ fuel capacities.
“It’s funny for non-aviation professionals to be interested in the nitty-gritty of this,” said a private jet pilot I know named James, whose full name I’m not using because his private-jet-owner boss would not approve. “A lot of the actual discussion is pretty mundane for me, because it’s just the typical stuff that we deal with on a day-to-day, so seeing some random person on Twitter worrying about the fuel and the headwinds is pretty unique.”
James flies a Falcon, the same type of jet Swift until recently owned two of. “Especially on the corporate side of things, although I think this is true for airline pilots as well, you do feel a bit of an identity tied to the airplane that you fly,” he said. “As at least a moderate fan of Taylor Swift, it was always kind of cool to be flying around in the same kind of aircraft that she has.” He’s less hot on the Global 7500, the type of plane Swift seems likely to charter to get to the Super Bowl: “It has a reputation for breaking down often,” he said. He assured me that the chances of any of its doors falling off are low, though.
Being familiar with Swift’s music might make James an anomaly—he said private pilots tend to be middle-aged or older men. “It’s much more likely for a pilot’s daughter to be a big Taylor Swift fan,” he said. He also said he doesn’t covet Swift’s pilots’ jobs: “Flying for a celebrity is probably worse than flying for an unknown wealthy individual.”
Hubbard, of the NBAA, wasn’t exactly delighted by the whimsy of his professional remit temporarily expanding to include talking about Taylor Swift. “It’s hard to speak to your characterization of whether it’s funny or not funny,” he told me. His organization is focused on advocating for its members, and the privacy thing that Swift is so upset about is a priority to them. “It’s the question of security and being able not to have interference from corporate espionage. We see that with other people who are in the public eye. Musk, we’ve seen that with him. We’ve seen some of this with Bill Gates. To me, it’s a serious issue. It’s not really a funny issue.”
Niles, on the other hand, appreciated a chance to cover something a little lighter for a change. “I just thought it was a cute way to be relevant in the outside world, because we tend to be pretty insular about the topics that we write about,” he said. “It was almost tongue-in-cheek because our audience doesn’t care about Taylor Swift very much.” Indeed, Niles’ story included the charming detail that the plane Swift recently sold had a cabin height of 6 feet and 2 inches, making it not tall enough to fit Kelce, who is 6-foot-5, without forcing him to stoop.
Niles said that AVweb is primarily read by pilots and aviation professionals, some of whom balked at seeing Swift news there. “I’ve had some rather snide comments in the comment section about our story choice with that one,” Niles said.
“If I started writing a weekly story about Taylor Swift, I think maybe the good-natured derision would turn into something else,” he went on. This isn’t only because the audience would be annoyed by Swift getting so much coverage, but more because he thinks the stories would get boring. For instance, he said he expects her flight to Vegas to go off without a hitch.
“There’s just no news there. ‘Plane lands safely.’ Big deal.”