Kids Take Over JFK Air Traffic Control, and I Think It’s Hilarious

I assume by now you’ve heard about the kid that made a few calls to airplanes in the JFK tower, right? Lots of people seem to be Kid Air Traffic Controlflipping out over this, but honestly, I think it’s pretty funny. I mean, no harm was done, and I can’t imagine it could have been done either.

Don’t get me wrong. This was just a dumb thing to do. It sounds like at least one of the controllers had a kid or two on a school break, so he brought them up to the tower. That’s a huge thrill for any kid (especially dorks like me), but if that’s all that happened, I don’t think this would be plastered on the nightly news. No, it’s when the kid took over and made some transmissions to airplanes that the sh*t hit the fan.

Like I said, that was a really dumb thing to do, especially since these guys will be lucky if they somehow still have a job, but I think all these people flipping out about it just need to chill out. If you listen to the kids’ transmissions, they sounded very professional to me:

Kid: Don’t be a fool, JetBlue 171, you know what a landing like this means, you more than anybody. I’m ordering you to stay up there.
JetBlue 171: No dice, New York. I’m giving the orders and we’re coming in. I guess the foot’s on the other hand now, isn’t it, kid?

See? Harmless. Ok, so maybe that wasn’t exactly what happened. It actually was far more boring than that:

Kid: JetBlue 171 contact departure
JetBlue 171: Over to departure, JetBlue 171 . . . awesome job

Oooh, scary. The world is gonna end! As Rob Mark wrote over on JetWhine, “The kid never controlled anything. He said the words his dad told him to say, nothing more.” (You can listen to the tapes here.)

That’s the reality here. If the kid wasn’t quick enough or some sort of situation developed, you know that the controller was right there ready to take over. There wasn’t any harm here, and I really don’t think there could have been. The pilots clearly weren’t concerned.

It wouldn’t surprise me if this guy loses his job and that’s a shame, but I understand it. People are going crazy over this, so somebody’s head has to roll. He screwed up, so now he’s going to have to pay. Bummer, because I thought it was pretty damn funny.

62 Responses to Kids Take Over JFK Air Traffic Control, and I Think It’s Hilarious

  1. Randy says:

    @ Ridor9th Experience it from the back of the Tower, sure, pushing the buttons, no.

    While I have never been a controller, just observed operations in many various towers, I can only imagine that someone working ATC goes through extensive training first, then works a small airport to learn the ropes, and then eventually bids up to the largest airports like JFK. You just don’t throw anyone, especially a 6 year old into that type of situation.

    My best guess here is that the article and the responders who thought it was no big deal, were written by people with no operational experience at an airline or other type of flight operation. Cranky, I know you worked revenue management at America West, but I am not sure if you ever had any hands on ops experience outside of corporate headquarters.

    You always have to fight complacency and formal programs usually ensure that safety is always kept in mind. Airline operations are built around a culture of safety. It is a given that it can’t be perfectly safe, but the goal is to identify and mitigate potential hazards, managing the overall risk. The controller ignored this and deliberately introduced a hazard into the process and that is why he should be fired.

  2. K says:

    I’m going to go with the pilots on this one — they thought it was cute and didn’t care and still don’t, considering their ingenious show of solidarity by now slipping “Adios” into their transmissions to JFK ATC (see Daily News article above).

    You don’t get to work as a controller at JFK for many years if you’re an idiot. This was a dumb move from a PR perspective, but if you think there was actual danger involved in *this* particular incident (not some hypothetical of what might happen with toddlers running around some imaginary tower), you need to take a clue from the pilots who were actually involved here, and relax.

  3. CF says:

    Randy wrote:

    My best guess here is that the article and the responders who thought it was no big deal, were written by people with no operational experience at an airline or other type of flight operation. Cranky, I know you worked revenue management at America West, but I am not sure if you ever had any hands on ops experience outside of corporate headquarters.

    I spent a lot of time above the wing but none below or behind the scenes in the operation. I do have plenty of friends who have, and I’ve spoken to many about this. Also, I think you’ll find that many of the people who have commented here have very good and relevant experience.

  4. Although it didn’t and most likely wouldn’t have done any harm, perception is key. If passengers don’t have faith that the ATC can keep them safe, they are going to be afraid to fly, be it right or wrong perception.

    I think this would have been more amusing in a small airport, but not JFK.

  5. ASFalcon13 says:

    Here’s what I posted on the Yahoo News article about this…

    “On one hand, I agree that this was probably a great learning experience for the kid.

    On the other hand, air traffic controllers are responsible for the safety of thousands of passengers. For this reason, the FAA expects that controllers will give their undivided attention to the job, and won’t allow themselves to be distracted. I’ve toured active control towers before, and there was usually a representative on hand to conduct the tour; typically, we were told not to disrupt the controllers actively performing their jobs.

    The issue here isn’t whether the kid was going to confuse pilots; rather, the issue is that if the controller was taking the time to show his kid how to talk to the pilots, he wasn’t paying complete attention to the job itself. His attention was split between directing traffic and supervising his child, and this is clearly in opposition to what’s expected of him.”

    As a side issue, I’ll mention that I’m a light aircraft pilot, and do most of my flying around Houston. The airspace around here is pretty complex, with two Class B airports (IAH and HOU) and a slew of smaller fields under the Class B shelves. On a nice day, the air is filled with student pilots, weekend warriors, NASA and military traffic from EFD, and plenty of other GA traffic in addition to the scheduled big iron. It’s a lot of different types of traffic converging on one city…In other words, it’s busy. If I’m shooting the I-10 VFR corridor between IAH and HOU, I sure as hell hope that the Houston Approach controller has his full attention on the airspace, and isn’t spending time babysitting his kids.

  6. Oliver says:

    I am brain surgeon. I always bring my kids into the OR during their spring break. What’s the harm? I’ll be right there in case their knife goes a bit off course.

    How come we have “Sterile Cockpit Rules” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sterile_Cockpit_Rule) when the pilots’ counterparts in the control tower can operate a day care center at their workplace?

  7. Jim says:

    Time to back , and wear the ole jackasss yourself, Cranky. You really struck out on this “hilarious” event. Let’s hear you say it out loud.

  8. CF says:

    Jim wrote:

    Time to back , and wear the ole jackasss yourself, Cranky. You really struck out on this “hilarious” event. Let’s hear you say it out loud.

    You won’t hear me back off here at all. The comments here have been overwhelmingly in favor of my position, and I stand by it.

  9. Jim says:

    Cranky says “comments have been overwhelmingly in favor of my position…” Uh, my count of the 58 messages to date shows 26 clearly in favor of Cranky, and 17 clearly not in agreement. I suggest 26/17 is not “overwhelming”. All of us on this site are probably plane-o-philic, so I would say the response is surprisingly negative.

    26 + 17 = 43, less than 58. Some messages are repeats or clarifications, and are not counted. Someone else r\doing the same count might differ by a couple of tallies from my count, without seriously changing my point.

    Some comments are hard to classify: Daren “stupid decision but”. BF “Was this a dumb move…? Of course, even though…” Matt “punished but not fired”. Rob Mark “goofy but it wasn’t unsafe” David SFeastby “Bad judgement but…” I didn’t tally these.

    Should comments of this genre “not a good idea but no harm done” be considered for or against the action of the ATC? I suggest they should be considered “against” (but I did NOT count them one way or the other). I suggest airplane driving and controlling should be a 100% full-focus activity; no “buts”.

    Would the controller have done this thing in the presence of his supervisor’s supervisor? Supervisor might be a day-to-day acquaintance or friend maybe; the supervisor’s supervisor one level up would be a visitor, completely unknown maybe. Answer: no he would not. Repeat: no, the child would not have been allowed to perform in the presence of the supervisor’s supervisor..

    Conclusion: bad decision. This trivial act is not part of the ATC scene. Not ever.

    The jackass stays posted on your back, Cranky!

    Apologies for wasting everyone’s time! Let’s move on.

  10. CF says:

    Jim wrote:

    Some comments are hard to classify: Daren “stupid decision but”. BF “Was this a dumb move…? Of course, even though…” Matt “punished but not fired”. Rob Mark “goofy but it wasn’t unsafe” David SFeastby “Bad judgement but…” I didn’t tally these.

    I can’t believe I’m continuing to spend time on this, but how could you not count these? That’s exactly what I said in the post so it clearly counts in favor of my position. As I said, “Don’t get me wrong. This was just a dumb thing to do.”

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