Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Take your kid to work day -- on a live radio at an ATC tower??

by B. N. Sullivan

I'm not big on writing about scandals, but this item really bothers me. Boston's Fox 25 ran an article today about a child communicating instructions to aircraft over an air traffic control frequency at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Think I'm joking? Check out this audio clip:

Yes, it's authentic. Fox 25 reports:
The FAA is certainly taking the matter seriously.

They have confirmed for FOX 25 that the recording we have with a child directing airplanes is an authentic recording from the JFK tower and an investigation is now underway.
The Fox 25 piece points out that the child appears to be supervised (!!) and that "the pilots respond enthusiastically" to him. Indeed, the kid does sound cute and precocious, but it's just not funny.

At one point in the audio, an adult voice is heard to say, "That's what you get guys when the kids are out of school. (laugh)"

Um, no. Just because the pilots on the other side of the conversation were good-natured about it doesn't make it right.

Fox 25 published this statement from the FAA:
Pending the outcome of our investigation, the employees involved in this incident are not controlling air traffic. This behavior is not acceptable and does not demonstrate the kind of professionalism expected from all FAA employees.
And this one from 'the union that represents air traffic controllers' [presumably NATCA]:
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.
Taking your kid to work is one thing. Letting your kid pose as an air traffic controller, even briefly, is quite another. I have a feeling that we may be hearing a lot more more about this incident.

UPDATE Mar. 3, 2010: The FAA addressed this incident this morning with the following statement, issued as a press release:
The Federal Aviation Administration announced today that two employees at John F. Kennedy Airport Tower are on administrative leave following an incident last month when a child was permitted to talk with pilots on an air traffic control frequency.

“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,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “We have an incredible team of professionals who safely control our nation’s skies every single day. This kind of behavior does not reflect the true caliber of our workforce.”

The two JFK Tower employees, a supervisor and an air traffic controller, are on administrative leave pending the outcome of an official FAA investigation into the incident which is already underway.

In addition, all unofficial visits to FAA air traffic control operational areas, such as towers and radar rooms, will be suspended during the investigation. The FAA Administrator has directed a team to conduct a full-scale review of air traffic control policies and procedures related to facility visitors.