Tapes indicate child directed planes at NY airport
Wed, 03 Mar 2010 13:54:44 GMT —
An air traffic controller at New York's Kennedy Airport was suspended for allowing his young son to radio instructions to several pilots.
The few quick exchanges between the elementary-school-aged child and jets waiting to take off from JFK, one of the nation's busiest airports, appeared to delight pilots at the time.
"I wish I could bring my kid to work," one said, wistfully.
But the Federal Aviation Administration suspended the controller and a supervisor Wednesday after recordings of the calls were posted on the Internet, then reported on by a Boston television station.
"This lapse in judgment not only violated FAA's own policies, but common sense standards for professional conduct. These kinds of distractions are totally unacceptable," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a statement. "This kind of behavior does not reflect the true caliber of our work force."
On the recording, which lasts about a minute, the boy appears to repeat instructions fed to him by his father. At no time does the child tell aircraft how to maneuver or where they should go.
The FAA said it has also barred unofficial visits by friends or relatives to FAA air traffic operational areas while it reviews its policies.
Radio chatter between air traffic controllers and pilots is routinely streamed live on the Internet. A user of one popular Web site devoted to controller talk, LiveATC.net, posted a recording of the child's radio calls not long after they happened on Feb. 16 - a date when many New York schoolchildren were on a midwinter break.
The boy made five transmissions to pilots preparing for departure, according to the recording.
"JetBlue 171 cleared for takeoff," the boy says in his first call. His father follows that up with a more detailed instruction for the aircraft, which was headed to Sacramento, Calif. He then offers an explanation to pilots on the air: "This is what you get, guys, when the kids are out of school."
In a second exchange, the boy instructs the same JetBlue flight to contact departure controllers. The pilot responds: "Over to departure JetBlue 171, awesome job!"
There are a few more similar exchanges. A pilot laughs. The boy can be overheard giggling.
In his last call, the youngster signs off, "Adios, amigo." The pilot responds in kind.
Based on the flight numbers called out during the exchange, the episode appears to have happened in the early evening, when JFK is often bustling with international flights.
The FAA offered scant detail on its investigation and wouldn't reveal the name of the controller or supervisor. Control towers are highly secure areas, although the agency does sometimes give employees permission to bring their children for a tour.
The union representing air traffic controllers condemned the worker's behavior.
"It is not indicative of the highest professional standards that controllers set for themselves and exceed each and everyday in the advancement of aviation safety," the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said in a statement.
LiveATC founder Dave Pascoe, a pilot and radio enthusiast, said he was sickened at the thought that the controller could be disciplined.
"I absolutely believe that this is being blown out of proportion," he said. "This is just a completely controlled situation. A child was being told exactly what to say."
He added: "I think it's just fantastic that this guy cared enough to take his kid to work. How many parents take their kids to work these days?"
The episode comes less than seven months after a controller at an airport in nearby Teterboro, N.J., was placed on leave for his actions in the moments leading up to a deadly crash between a helicopter and small plane over the Hudson River. The controller was recorded joking on the phone with his girlfriend as he dispatched instructions to the doomed plane. He ended the call when he realized the plane had dropped out of radio contact, just seconds before the crash.