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 on 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 behaviour does not reflect the true calibre 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 manoeuvre or where they should go.

Should he have been suspended? Must have been a thrill for the kid.




  1. BigBoyBC says:

    I think the real issue here is that the kids were doing a better job than the adults…

  2. Cpt Oveur says:

    All that happened was the pilots were instructed to change frequencies at the appropriate moment in their flight to do so. They heard children being instructed by adults. Was it the right thing to do? Probably not. But the only person who needs to be disciplined is the supervisor who allowed children into the tower. Now get over it.

  3. Mom says:

    Unbelievable. It’s not about terrorists winning or people getting their “panties in a bunch” over nothing as some have commented. This is not nothing. Its about professionalism in a job where mistakes can result in serious injuries or deaths of passengers and crew. What if your mother or sister were on a plane that crashed as a result of some kid giving out instructions to the pilots?
    There have been near misses at airports where the ATC gave conflicting directions to incoming pliots. Yes, the job is stressful, not because the ATC’s are incompetent, but because they are aware that they could accidentally hurt or kill someone if they screw up. I think that the ATC and his supervisor should be summarily fired, thereby sending a clear message that this cannot happen. They obviously do not value their jobs enough to be concerned for the safety of passengers and crew or exercise even a modicum of common sense.

  4. Serious says:

    This would have gone unnoticed and probably quite common place if it wasn’t posted online. Personally don’t feel it is a big deal even if i was in the plane. The kid was supervised.

  5. Gary says:

    I love how all the TV “newscasters”, many websites and assorted pundits have been spinning this as the kid was directing the planes. He was doing no such thing, he was parroting the words his father gave him, period. And the entire time his father was on a headset with him. And NONE of the instructions being given were in any way the type that requires any sort of split second decisions on ANYONE’S part, not the controller nor the pilot.

    Much ado about nothing.

  6. anthony says:

    I think the child actually did a great job, but what an idiot the parent is. What do you expect is going to happen if you let your child direct airplanes at one of the world’s busiest airports. After second thought, keep the kid at the controls, anything to keep the idiot parent away.

    http://www.failpick.com/2010/3/child-directs-air-traffic-at-busy-jfk-airport

  7. deowll says:

    The stuffed shirts got their undies in a wad.

  8. lens42 says:

    Why does the response to every one of these screw-ups have to be that the person gets fired? Demanding that everyone do their jobs perfectly will result in no one left to do work. If this controller had a good work record, the correct response would be to note the lapse on his record, issue some sort of reprimand, and get on with work. It pretty clear that this guy will be very careful in the future. Probably more careful than the person who replaces him. You have to consider what will result in the safest skies going forward, and I doubt firing this guy gives that result. Where is the common sense?

  9. martfin says:

    I have to ask a question here, Hands up who went to work with their dads growing up? My hands in the air. My dad used to work on the railways in the UK (pretty dangerous environment) and as a 12 year old I can remember going to work with him for his full 12 hour shift during the school holidays. Guess what happened I ended up becoming a locomotive engineer and driving trains because of those experiences when I grew up. Now I think this guy and his supervisor had a pretty big lapse in judgement, but his kid did as instructed and the dad took care of all the safety related commands. What is the big deal. I wish the world wasn’t so uptight (especially here in the USA) and always looking for someone to blame or string up. The crazy part is people none of us and I repeat NONE OF US are perfect and at some point we have had a similar lapse in judgement, we were just lucky and didn’t have someone post our lapse on the internet for everyone to see and comment on. Slap the guy and his supervisor on the wrist and move on!

  10. Dan "The Man" Lavitan says:

    martfin: i remember being encouraged by my dad to achieve what i wanted, and i remember him providing everything he could to help me.
    to everyone, what if this child wanted to be an ATC when he grew up? to be a pilot? hell, to be ground crew even?
    I would be very surprised now if this kid wants to do that any more, especially with the furore that has happened around what is essentially a lapse in judgement by the adults involved.

    All the planes involved were on the ground, taxing to the runway.
    I have never been in a working cockpit (due to never flying in a plane till after 9/11) but I have seen through the windscreens of junked planes and I am 100% certain, had the child issued an incorrect order, the pilots would have compensated for it with their professional experience.

    Especially since the “don’t run up the arse of the big white plane in front of you” rule is probably pretty cemented in their minds by now.

  11. But it is clear that the transmissions are guided and are based on instructions of the father. I personally think that this could have avoided if there are clear instructions to employees that the tower should be for employees alone; no son, no wife or visitors whatsoever. This may be amusing now but thanks goodness nothing serious happened.

  12. bdgbill says:

    The guy should have been fired. Every supervisor that knew there was a kid in the control tower should have been fired.

    The issue isn’t so much that the kid spoke to planes on the radio. It’s the fact that he was in the tower at all. I thought the control tower of a major international airport was a super serious military like environment. Apparently not. This job is supposed to be super high stress and require laser like focus at all times. How is this guy minding his children while doing that?

    If the story was that this guy was caught playing video games on his iPhone while working everyone would be freaking out. Because the story involves Precious Children we are all supposed to think it’s cute.

    It’s lucky we didn’t have two planes fly into each other because little Timmy was playing with the stapler.

  13. Nik (no C) says:

    #42 – “I thought the control tower of a major international airport was a super serious military like environment.” Control towers are secure areas, but until this point, fairly easy to get a tour of an FAA tower. There are no secrets up there. More limited in room to accommodate a tour.

    And to everyone who says how STRESSFUL ATC is, it is only stressful if you have no idea what you are doing. Most controllers have a blast in what they do.

    There is a healthy relationship that pilots and controllers have. Pilots think ATC is trying to kill them and ATC thinks pilots are stupid. It is an attitude that keeps the system honest. In the last 16 years, I have saved some pilots asses, and they have saved mine.

    Quit knee-jerking the situation and making decisions angry. This isn’t a big deal.

  14. Vonchiz says:

    Puh-lease. Anyone who thinks that this is a terrifying and life-threatening incident please remove the telephone pole from up your posterior.

  15. wirelessg says:

    #10 Why is this a political issue? This has been against official policy since FAA wrote the rules.

    Of course, Cheney brought George to work with him everyday and look what happened.

  16. audion says:

    This had better be No Agenda’s “Distraction of the Week”.

  17. Airforce Pilot says:

    #6 exactly right
    #9 So. when I go into surgery for a Hip replacement, I should let the Doctors nine year old preform the surgery because he is watched? The Kid is clearly a distraction. Had something gone awry, then they would be singing “Why was the kid doing this”? This is unacceptable behavior.

  18. Richmidd says:

    Having been in ATC once upon a time I don’t feel any aircraft were in danger. It is obvious to any controller that these children were instructed as to what to say. The phraseology used was correct
    and only a controller would know this.

    The danger MAY come from distraction of other controllers. Discipline may be in order for this
    reason.

    The media again prefers sensationalism to facts

  19. Whaap says:

    Suspension is FAR too light. The asshole should be prosecuted for criminal negligence at the very least.

  20. RSweeney says:

    so much for taking your kids to work day

  21. I agree with headshaker… not a good idea after all… Anyways, thanks for this post..

  22. Animby says:

    # 47 Airforce Pilot said, “I should let the Doctors nine year old preform the surgery because he is watched?”

    That would be irresponsible. All the interns I supervise are at least 15!

  23. Thirdstonefromsun says:

    #52 That would make the interns 5 years older than you

  24. Animby says:

    Thank you, 3rd. I was afraid I was losing my prepubescent charms…

  25. Wizzard says:

    #6 Correct
    #47 agree
    #53 LOL
    The underlying point is..The kid should not have been in the tower in the first place. Yeah I know ” he is the atc son, Daughter etc” “Nothing went wrong” “He was supervised” Open your eyes. He/she was not qualified, did not belong on the radios, talking with Pilots.
    The qualifications are:
    Education and training. There are three main pathways to become an air traffic controller with the FAA. The first is air traffic controllers with prior experience through either the FAA or the Department of Defense as a civilian or veteran. Second are applicants from the general public. These applicants must have 3 years of progressively responsible full-time work experience, have completed a full 4 years of college, or a combination of both. In combining education and experience, 1 year of undergraduate study—30 semester or 45 quarter hours—is equivalent to 9 months of work experience. The third way is for an applicant to have successfully completed an aviation-related program of study through the FAA’s Air Traffic-Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program. In 2008, there were 31 schools in the AT-CTI program”
    “Other qualifications. Air traffic controllers must be articulate to give pilots directions quickly and clearly. Intelligence and a good memory also are important because controllers constantly receive information that they must immediately grasp, interpret, and remember. Decisiveness also is required because controllers often have to make quick decisions. The ability to concentrate is crucial because controllers must make these decisions in the midst of noise and other distractions.” I am certain the kid did not meet this criteria..(http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos108.htm)

  26. Greg Allen says:

    Awake,

    Even though your story is horrible (and pretty anomalous, I suspect), I’m just not worried about children causing airplane crashes.

    What worries me more? Overworked and underpaid pilots. Outsourced and under-funded airplane maintenance. Antiquated flight control technology in over crowded skies.

    But kids crashing planes? No.

  27. rhys607 says:

    When I was a child my Dad took me to work in the summer months. He was a jet engine mechanic in the Air Force. He taught me how to safety wire the nozzles in the afterburner. I did this task countless times and can proudly say that no military jets were harmed in the making of those memories. My Dad’s superior officers thought it was cool. He was right there supervising my work and double checking everything. The same applies to the FAA incident I am sure. The ATC was not having a lunch break and letting his child run his sector. He was there looking over the childs shoulder and monitoring everything he said. I think the FAA brass need to chill out.


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