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JFK air traffic controller let his kid radio instructions to pilots

A plane takes off from Kennedy International Airport.

Associated Press (2001)

A plane takes off from Kennedy International Airport.

Some of the boy's chat with pilots

Dad: Lemme see. Aero Mexico 403 Kennedy. Runway 31 left position hold.

Aero Mexico: Position hold Aero Mexico 403.

Dad: Here's what you get guys when the kids are out of school.

Adult: Ha ha.

Adult: I wish I could bring my kid to work.

Child: JetBlue 171 contact departure.

JetBlue 171: Over to departure JetBlue 171. Awesome job.

Child: 03 cleared for take off.

Aero Mexico: 403 cleared for take off. Thank you very much. You have a great day.

Child: A-Mex 403 contact departure, adios

Aero Mexico: Contact departure Aero Mexico 403, adios.

JetBlue 195: Cleared for takeoff 31 left. JetBlue 195.

Dad: Delta 216 Kennedy runway 31 left position and hold.

Delta 216: Position and hold 31 left. Delta 216.

Child: Contact departure, adios amigos!

JetBlue 195: Adios amigo, over to departure JetBlue 195.

Hear the full exchange at tampabay.com/video.

NEW YORK — As the runways and taxiways at Kennedy Airport bustled with international flights, the jargon-packed radio chatter between controllers and pilots suddenly included a young boy's voice: "JetBlue 171, cleared for takeoff."

An air traffic controller who took his son to work let the youngster read a few routine messages to pilots. They were amused; the FAA, not so much.

Radio transmissions between air traffic controllers and pilots are 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 up with more detailed instructions for an Aero Mexico flight.

Dad then offers an explanation: "Here's 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 of the flight to Sacramento, Calif., responds: "Over to departure, JetBlue 171. Awesome job!"

There are a few more similar exchanges. A pilot laughs. One says, "I wish I could bring my kid to work.'' (Great idea. Maybe he could fly the plane!) The boy can be overheard giggling.

On the recording, which lasts about a minute, the elementary-school-age boy appears to repeat instructions fed to him by his father. At no time does the child tell aircraft how to maneuver in flight.

The boy squeaks out a few more instructions to pilots before signing off, including telling the crew aboard the Aero Mexico flight, "Adios, amigos."

The FAA was not as friendly.

"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," Randy Babbitt, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, said in a statement. "This kind of behavior does not reflect the true caliber of our work force."

Authorities suspended the controller and his supervisor on Wednesday after a Boston TV station reported the story. The FAA said it has also barred unofficial visits by friends or relatives to FAA air traffic operational areas while it reviews its policies.

The FAA offered scant detail on its investigation and would not reveal the name of the controller or supervisor. Control towers are highly secure areas, though the agency does sometimes give employees permission to bring their children for a tour.

LiveATC founder Dave Pascoe, a pilot, said, "I absolutely believe that this is being blown out of proportion. 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.''

That's probably why the same employee on the next day, officials said, let his daughter speak to two pilots over the air traffic radios.

JFK air traffic controller let his kid radio instructions to pilots 03/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 11:15pm]
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