And A Little Child Shall Lead Them


Commercial passenger aircraft, the 6th busiest airport in the country, and a child at the mic of air traffic control; what could possibly go wrong?

Fortunately nothing did go wrong, but heads may roll because one evening about two weeks ago, a child (clearly with the assistance of an adult) was directing planes on the ground at Kennedy Airport.

AP reports:

“JetBlue 171, cleared for takeoff,” the boy says in his first call. His father follows that up with a more detailed instruction for the aircraft, which was headed to Sacramento, Calif.

He then offers an explanation to pilots on the air: “This is 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 responds: “Over to departure, JetBlue 171. Awesome job!”

There are a few more similar exchanges. A pilot laughs. The boy can be overheard giggling.

Based on the flight numbers called out during the exchange, the episode appears to have happened in the early evening, when JFK is often bustling with international flights.

Not only did the father disregard safety measures by bringing his son to the control tower (a highly secure area), it would seem that everyone else in the tower at the time abetted this breach of protocol, security, and common sense, and allowed a school child on vacation to direct commercial air traffic.

I don’t care if his father was hovering over his shoulder the whole time. I don’t care if the rest of the controllers were watching out. I don’t care if the pilots involved thought it was cute. This is a massive security breach, and heads should roll, because clearly we don’t have adults running ground traffic at JFK, we have adolescents.

Air travelers, you’re in the very best of hands.



5 Responses to And A Little Child Shall Lead Them

  1. Bill says:

    I think you are blowing this WAY out of proportion. You talk about a “massive security breach”…what, do you think this kid an Al-Queda terrorist? Gimme a break! Should the controller be reprimanded? Yes. Severely? NO! The kid did exactly what the father directed him to do with absolutely no incident, and no problems or delays were caused whatsoever. And the kid had an unbelievably cool day he will remember for a lifetime!!! And an “adolescent” was not running things…the controller was. This is one of the big problems with the country today. Things like this get turned from molehills into mountains by people like you. Just relax already. If you were in that kids place when you were young, you would be doing backflips w/ excitement being able to do this.

    • Stoutcat says:

      Oh Bill, sure. It’s blown out of proportion because nothing bad happened–fortunately. Yes, control towers have very tight security, and for a reason. In this case, nobody’s accusing the kid or the dad of being anything remotely like terrorists. But the dad broke security protocol in a big way.

      And in case you didn’t read the linked article, even his union isn’t supporting this guy. Air traffic controllers are held to rigorous standards for a reason: millions of lives are in their hands. And when they slack off even for a few moments, very bad things can happen:

      The episode comes less than seven months after a controller at an airport in nearby Teterboro, N.J., was placed on leave for his actions in the moments leading up to a deadly crash between a helicopter and small plane over the Hudson River.

      The controller was recorded joking on the phone with his girlfriend as he dispatched instructions to the doomed plane. He ended the call when he realized the plane had dropped out of radio contact, just seconds before the crash.

      Literally that one was a matter of seconds that turned into a deadly situation. So, yes, this is a big deal. It’s a shame that the kid’s dad lacked the understanding to realize that putting the kid on mic was a very bad idea. So I hope he is transferred out of the control tower into another position–clearly he lacks the judgement required to keep air travelers safe, and I’d rather have him elsewhere before he makes another mistake that could cost lives.

  2. Annie Wright says:

    Sorry Stoutcat, I agree with Bill…
    This was a situation where only a standard bollocking should apply…
    Checking to improve security access procedures? Yes.
    Checking with other staff concerned to ensure future conformity with the rules? Yes.
    Obviously the Union cannot be seen to publicly support it…
    But to penalize any staff member? No.

  3. Gerry Ashley says:

    Bill and Annie,

    I have to agree with Stoutcat and not because we’re both writers here at Grand Rants.


    Let’s say a pilot has his 16 year-old son in the cockpit. Would it be a big deal if the pilot let his son sit in the cockpit and place his hands on the controls of the plane as his father instructs him what to do… even for a moment?

    If you answer yes, because the father could take contol back instantly if something happens, guess again: This is exactly what happened on March 22, 1994 when an Aeroflot Airlines (Russian) flight crashed on a flight from Moscow to Hong Kong. The pilot, Yaroslav Kudrinsky, let his 12-year-old daughter and then his 16-year-old son take turns sitting in his seat at the controls. The cockpit tapes were recovered and it was later confirmed that the pilot instructed his daughter how to turn the plane. Then the 16 year-old did the same thing. Unfortunately, the son also accidentally stepped on the right pedal which, combined with turning the plane, turned off the autopilot and sent the plane into a fatal spin from which the crew was unable to recover. The crash killed all 75 people on board.

    My point is this: The father was on the scene here too. But it just goes to show you that sometimes even that is not enough to avoid a tragedy. In the case of the Kennedy flight, THEY GOT LUCKY. Nothing happened. But that could have easily NOT been the case.

    In the case of Aeroflot, one small “Ooops,” and everyone on board paid with their lives. You can read about it here:

    Add to that two other things that need to be acknowledged in this case:

    1.) This is one of the busiest air traffic areas in the country.

    2.) True, dad was there and ready to take over if necessary. But if an emergency happened, a split second can make the difference between life and death for hundreds of people in a plane a many more on the ground. At any give moment each air traffic controller is responsible for literally dozens of planes. ANY distraction, even for a split second, could cause enough of a delay in response to render corrective or evasive action useless.

    3.) Lest you think I’m going overboard on the critical nature of being aware at all times, it was in this airspace last August 8th, that a small plane and helicopter collided over the Hudson river between Manhatten and Hoboken, NJ. You can read about that case here:

    The bottom line, folks: Just because they got lucky in the case of the ATC incident in NY doesn’t mean people responsible for letting this happen should be able to walk scott-free. That’s the problem in today’s society: People who break laws (or in this case, regulations) don’t get punished until someone dies as a result of their neglegence. In this case, no way should the parent get away with a mere slap on the wrist. The severity of the infraction – NOT the outcome – should be the only criterion considered when determining the proper corrective action. I would be inclined to fire the supervisor if he/she knew (and approved) the father letting his son on the air. If the father took it upon himself to do this without checking with the Supervisor, then the father should get sacked. End of story. The safety of the public is NOT something to be compromised under ANY circumstance.

  4. Annie says:

    It’s not just a matter of the Air Traffic Controller or his supervisor…
    This is not a job where the guy tele-works from home nursing his kids on his lap…
    The kid was admitted into a secure area (or what ought to be a secure area)…There would be other ATCs and personnel in the room…Any and all of them should have objected to the kid’s presence…
    Clearly no-one did.
    So what do you want to do?
    Sack all of them and close down the northeast US skies until replacements can be drafted in?
    I agree it was a serious matter and should not have happened.
    But I see the proper measured response as being education and training of all the personnel involved, in security, in the room and the pilots involved, not just sacrificing the token scapegoat…


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