Published March 03, 2010
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.
One conversation between the tower at JFK Airport in New York and a pilot goes as follows:
JFK TOWER: Jet Blue 171 contact departure.
PILOT: Over to departure jet blue 171, awesome job.
The child appears to be supervised, with a controller explaining the reason for the young voice to the pilot.
JFK TOWER: That's what you get guys when the kids are out of school. (laugh)
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.
JFK airport is the sixth busiest in the country with thousands of planes taking off and landing every day.
The control tower is a highly secure area and the FAA says only licensed controllers are supposed to communicate with planes.
The FAA said it has also barred unofficial visits by friends or relatives to FAA air traffic operational areas while it reviews its policies.
"I have never ever heard a small kid in the tower giving instructions for an airplane to take off or cross a runway or any kind of instructions," Jim Baker, a retired chief pilot at Delta airlines, told MyFoxBoston.
"Pending the outcome of our investigation, the employees involved in this incident are not controlling air traffic, the FAA said in a statement. "This behavior is not acceptable and does not demonstrate the kind of professionalism expected from all FAA employees."
The union that represents air traffic controllers said: "We do not condone this type of behavior in any way, and it is not indicative of the highest professional standards that controllers set for themselves and exceed each and every day in the advancement of aviation safety."
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 Associated Press contributed to this report.