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Kids Direct Air Traffic At JFK AirportAccording to reports from CNN and The Wall Street Journal, an air traffic controller and his supervisor at the John F. Kennedy airport in New York allowed the controller’s 10-year-old son to send radio instructions to pilots. An internal memo blasts the controller and supervisor for "unauthorized and unprofessional" conduct.

More from CNN:

New York (CNN) — "Unauthorized and unprofessional" is how an internal memo describes the conduct of an air traffic controller, who allegedly allowed his two young children to speak with pilots on an air traffic control frequency, and his supervisor, who allegedly allowed it to happen.

The memo, dated February 25, was written after the facilities manager for the air traffic control tower at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport learned about the incident, a source familiar with the investigation told CNN.

"The display of professionalism in the past by the control personnel at this facility has been exemplary," the memo said. "However, a lapse in judgment for what may seem a minor transgression diminishes our credibility and slights the high standards of professionalism."

From The Wall Street Journal:

The FAA is investigating the matter, which occurred on the evening of Feb. 16 at one of the nation’s busiest airports. It was reported by Boston television station WFXT-TV on Tuesday.

The day after his son was there, according to people familiar with the details, the same controller brought another youngster, his daughter, into the controller tower, and she also allegedly transmitted some radio messages to aircraft.


In the recording, the boy’s squeaky voice can be heard relaying instructions to the aircraft, apparently after hearing them from his father; at times, a controller jumped in with additional instruction. "That’s what you get, guys, when the kids are out of school," a male voice in the tower said.

In one exchange, the child can be heard saying, "JetBlue 171 contact departure." The pilot responded: "Over to departure JetBlue 171, awesome job."

The comments indicate the JetBlue plane had just taken off, as controllers typically instruct pilots to switch to another radio frequency, referred to as departure control, shortly after liftoff.

In another exchange, the child referred to an AeroMexico flight as "Airmex" and signed off by saying, "Adios."

Not everyone is outraged. CNN quoted David Pascoe as saying the aviation community was not concerned:

Pascoe said most people "in the aviation community felt like this was (not) anything more than a noble thing, that a father would take his kid to work."

"It was one incident where a kid was up in the control tower," he said. "If you know anything about aviation, you know that the air traffic control towers are highly supervised. … A father was taking a child to work and let the kid clear planes for takeoff and now the world thinks it’s an unsafe place."

What about you? Are you concerned that 10-year-old children were directing commercial aircraft after take-off from one of the world’s busiest airports or is the concern overblown? Let us know in the comments below.

You can read more about safety issues at our safety blog and become a fan of Langdon & Emison on Facebook.


  1. Gravatar for Brad

    This is much ado about nothing. If there was a rogue child running around giving random instructions to planes, I would agree that it is a terrible security breach and that lives were in danger. In this instance, however, that is not the case.

    It is obvious to me that the kid is being supervised by his father and is getting coached on what to say because he is giving instructions to airplanes using proper ATC phraseology.

    I also believe it's telling that the pilots were amused by the fact that a kid was talking to them. Does anyone think they would be laughing if they thought the child posed any danger?

    In my opinion there were two layers of safety between the child and disaster:

    1. The father that is sitting right next to him ready to make a split-second correction if the child misspoke, and

    2. Pilots that are smart enough to question if a clearance or communication doesn't make sense.

    Most people do not understand the aviation industry and assume that everything relating to flying and controlling airplanes is split-second, life or death decision-making. That simply is not true. While there are plenty of potential safety risks out there, this event was not one of them...

  2. Gravatar for Facebook User

    When I was a child, the air traffic controllers ALWAYS let me go up into the control tower. Eyes filled with wonder, I would get to see that amazing place in operation.

    That was a special privilege afforded to us Americans because we are a free country. I also got to steer the Staten Island Ferry, when I was 12.

    In these post-Cheney days of myopic stupid fear and loathing, this is now viewed as some kind of atrocious incident.

    The only thing alarming here is the fact that we are still cowering from the Cheney mantra, of "be afraid. be very very afraid."

    It's just pitiful.

  3. Gravatar for melanie

    Ok. I honestly dont understand the problem. I am an air traffic controller myself and in one of the towers I used to work at we had days designated for family members to come up and talk to their relatives, who did in fact happened to be pilots. Naturally they were supervised by us actual controllers and we were able to correct them if any mistakes were made. And im sure it was the same here. Its not as if he handed his son the mic and left him to figure it out on his own.

    I heard the recordings of this kid on the radio and the funny thing is he sounds just as good as (if not better) than some of the people that have already been certified for years. I can see how some would find this upsetting and i dont necessarily thik it should be done all the time, but no harm came of it whatsoever. Theres nothing wrong with a father wanting his child to experience what he does. What happened is totally innocent.

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