JFK Tower Allowed a Kid to Direct Air Traffic

Air-traffic control tower employees at New York’s Kennedy Airport are under federal investigation for apparently allowing a school-age child to direct pilots.

Reposted from MSNBC.com
NEW YORK - Air-traffic control tower employees at New York’s Kennedy Airport are under federal investigation for apparently allowing a school-age child to direct pilots.
The FAA said the child was brought to the tower by its parent, a controller, on Feb. 17. The controller and the controller’s supervisor at the time have been relieved of their duties.
“Pending the outcome of our investigation the employees involved in this incident are not controlling 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 youngster, apparently under adult supervision, makes five transmissions on a tape obtained by Channel 26 in Boston and confirmed as genuine by the FAA. The agency did not give any information as to the age of the child.
In a statement Wednesday, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association condemned the incident.
“We do not condone this type of behavior in any way,” ATC’s Director of Communication Doug Church said. “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.”
Directing JetBlue flight
According to reports, the clip indicated the child cleared traffic over the course of five radio transmissions.
According to the recordings, one exchange went like this:
JFK TOWER: JetBlue 171 contact departure.
PILOT: Over to departure JetBlue 171, awesome job.
A male voice then laughs.
JFK TOWER: That’s what you get, guys, when the kids are out of school.
In another exchange, the kid is playful with a pilot from Aeromexico flight 403, adding “Adios amigos,” to his directions for the pilot.

Wayne Farley’s Comments
Like a cockpit, an air traffic control facility should be a sterile environment that requires authorization for entry. Once there are authorized visitors in a facility, every effort should be made to ensure that the visit in no way interfere with the operations. Allowing the visitors to utilize the air-ground frequency is an act of irresponsibility and unprofessionalism. It should be noted here that only licensed personnel should be allowed to carry out such tasks. Air traffic control assistants in the facility at which I work are not even allowed that privilege. Serious discipline should be in order for this incident, and controllers everywhere should learn from this case.

2 Responses

Mark Wilkinson

Aviation tends to develop a level of seriousness and professionalism for any individual involved and over my years in aviation I have never seen or heard of a risk of this magnitude. In my opinion there is no word or words to describe the people who participated and encouraged this non sensical act. The first pilot that talked to that child should have cautioned the Air Traffic Controller of the danger and lack of safety in which they were promoting, As Wayne Farley rightfully said even assistant controllers do not have that privilege to talk to a pilot. The events at JFK on Feb 17 should be a lesson to highlight for aviators. Do not encourage another aviator to be apart of anything that is not becoming of aviation and its safety.


WOW, I can’t believe I just came across your article. I know it’s a bit old, but it reminded me of Aeroflot Flight 593 where the plane crash and at the time of the crash, the pilot’s 15 year old son accidentally disabled the Autopilot! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeroflot_Flight_593

About Wayne Farley

I am Wayne, a career air traffic controller. Engage me while I share my thoughts, experience, and news from around the aviation world. A post titled “13 Characteristics of an Air Traffic Controller” written in 2010 went viral and established me as the unofficial ambassador of ATC.

Stalk me here: