Kid Controls Air Traffic

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Korrente
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Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Korrente » Wed Mar 03, 2010 7:15 pm UTC

So this ATC guy decides to bring his son to work and let him operate the radios. No harm done until the media blows it up and the FAA turns on him. It's quite obvious from the audio that the pilots were amused and the child was told exactly what to say. In fact, the only thing he actually does is give takeoff and frequency change clearances (things the pilots already knew were coming); his father is clearly heard giving all other instructions.
As an aviator I thought it was cute and quite funny. I love when unusual things happen on the radio, and while witty controllers are often the best, this would have made my day. What do the masses think?

Here's the full story and the audio clip, from Avweb:
http://www.avweb.com/avwebflash/news/KidControllerAtJFK_202109-1.html?CMP=OTC-RSS

Spoiler:
Bring your-kid-to-work-day took on a decidedly different turn last week when a tower controller at New York's JFK evidently had a child communicate with aircraft on the outbound local frequency. Recorded audio reveals the child made a handful of transmissions—obviously coached—and the controller said on the frequency "that's what you get guys when the kids are out of school." The kid's directives included takeoff clearances and frequency switches to departure. Although the pilots on frequency appeared amused, the FAA and controller's union, NATCA, are not.

In a statement to Fox 25 in Boston, the FAA said "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." NATCA released a statement saying "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."


Audio: http://www.avweb.com/other/JFK-kid-controller.mp3

Also here is the Fox article, where they interview a random retired pilot, and tie the event to an irrelevant story: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,587801,00.html

Finally I would like to take this time to point to a recent Ars Technica article that describes the ATC system quite nicely: http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2010/03/the-science-and-technology-of-air-traffic-control.ars
Last edited by Korrente on Wed Mar 03, 2010 7:23 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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faranim
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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby faranim » Wed Mar 03, 2010 7:23 pm UTC

I don't see anything wrong here. Completely blown out of proportion.

Just goes to show exactly how much of our precious "Airport Security" is really just security theater.

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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Dauric » Wed Mar 03, 2010 7:28 pm UTC

Two words to explain why people are uptight about this:

Litigious Society.

In a reasonable world this would have been an amusing personal interest story. The bosses would have looked at the event and that the child was being coached through the instructions, maybe some of them dealing with the ATC personnel shortage would have thought to themselves "Hey, way to raise interest in ATC careers!", especially as no-one actually involved in the airspace at the time had an issue with it.

In the real world it would have been fine under the "It's okay as long as you don't get caught" except that someone recorded it, then it hit the media and a bunch of dumbasses immediately start checking their flight-stubs to see if they were anywhere near that tower at the time so they could sue for emotional distress, and an army of federal lawyers were erecting barricades to those lawsuits before the first one could hit.
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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Mar 03, 2010 7:29 pm UTC

I've read a couple articles about how the Air Traffic Controller organization (union?) is full of egoists and asshats who seem hell bent on making life difficult for controllers. Whistle blowers on blatant regulation violations were met with really shady coercion and bullying... So I dunno, if the guy was sitting nearby and telling his kid what to say, then whats the fucking harm?
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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Chen » Wed Mar 03, 2010 7:39 pm UTC

Assuming there were no random buttons to be pressed that could do anything wrong I can't imagine there being much of an issue here. He wasn't talking to people in emergencies or anything so even if he said something wrong, its unlikely to have caused any issue. The only thing I would consider that could be problematic was that the father was spending extra time relaying information to his son and presumably waiting for him to repeat it properly to the aircraft. This means its slightly more distracting than normal and it could have caused him to overlook something else that was happening. I'm fairly sure its pretty rare for an ATC to deal with only ONE aircraft. There's usually a designated amount he should be keeping his eye on, which means that relaying stuff to his son could have lowered his vigilance in taking care of other aircraft.

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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Atlas. » Wed Mar 03, 2010 8:03 pm UTC

In this instance nothing seemed to have gone wrong, but in a crisis when seconds matter it could have been a big problem, and crisis situations aren't always foreseeable. They shouldn't come down on the dad too hard for making poor decision that didn't lead to any damage, but they also have to at least verbally come down on him so this doesn't happen again. Nothing happened this time, but it doesn't seem like a practice that should become commonplace.
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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Dauric » Wed Mar 03, 2010 8:23 pm UTC

I can't help but feel the "Something could have gone wrong" trope is vastly overinflated in this case.

First: It's not like the dad was out of the room, he was there and he was still paying attention to the systems, if he wasn't paying attention he couldn't have been coaching his kid through what to say.

Second: Traffic control at the world's busiest airport, John F.Kennedy Airport in New York City, isn't one guy in a lawnchair on stilts with binoculars and a ham radio. There's a lot of other traffic controllers in that tower that could see, and considering the traffic volume probably did see, and take care of any number of potential emergencies. If everyone at the tower had the same idea to bring all their kids in -then- it might have been a problem (if only because traffic-control towers aren't exactly roomy and they'd be crammed in like college students trying to break the world's record for phone-booth occupancy).

Given that none of the other ATC in the tower had an issue with it ('cause if they did I'm sure it would have never happened), nor did any of the pilots that interacted with 'em, I bow to the judgment of the professionals that were working that tower and airspace at the time.
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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Korrente » Wed Mar 03, 2010 11:50 pm UTC

I think it would be hard to bring up litigation on this because the kid didn't actually 'control' anyone. The father made all the taxiing instruction calls, and the kid merely gave the takeoff and frequency change clearances. Takeoff clearance puts control into the pilot's hands, and frequency change is just switching the radios to talk to someone else. No one inexperienced was ever in control of anything.
I think it'll blow over in a few days. I find it funny that this made national news, but the kid who has been stealing planes in the midwest, nor the guy who stole an SR-22 and landed at LAX a few days ago seemed to have even made the ticker.

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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Gears » Thu Mar 04, 2010 1:41 am UTC

Once again America proves it's afraid of its own shadow.
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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby ATCG » Thu Mar 04, 2010 1:45 am UTC

The kid's a natural. As far as I'm concerned he's welcome to work traffic at my local tower any time. (Or at least record the ATIS message. "xxx airport information Heffalump . . .") I've heard pilot/controller exchanges that sounded nowhere near as professional.

It's a shame his dad got busted. Once things went public, anybody in an official capacity had no choice but to hunker down in CYA mode. According to the AOPA, both the controller and his supervisor are suspended, and I will be very surprised if at least the controller is not disciplined. I also won't be surprised if unofficial tower visits become totally verboten. (The tower is an awesome place to watch an airshow from.)

A friend of mine managed to finish out her twenty years (plus a couple more for good measure) in the tower; by the time she retired the feds had managed to drain the last iota of fun from the job. She has nothing but pity for those setting out on a career in ATC today.

(On a lighter note, here's some poor bastard doing his best to keep things moving on the ground frequency at JFK and losing the battle.)
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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby SummerGlauFan » Thu Mar 04, 2010 5:04 am UTC

Yeah, it is a big deal about nothing. Absolutely nothing changed except that the voice to give clearance was higher than normal.

Leave it to a government agency to freak out about nothing while ignoring real problems.
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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby SlyReaper » Thu Mar 04, 2010 8:36 am UTC

What a load of fuss over nothing. There was no harm done. At all. There was never even any danger of harm being done, because the dad was sitting next to the kid, and still monitoring the equipment. My mind boggles at how anyone could be so uptight about this. It's like firing a baker because he put an extra chocolate chip in each of his cookies.

Absolutely fricking bananas.
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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Eyat » Thu Mar 04, 2010 1:27 pm UTC

Also, in the clip he is giving departure information. He is talking to a plane on the ground! its not like the kidis selecting runways for incoming planes while his dad is in the pisser.

JFK is actually the worlds 18th busiest airport, and the 13th busiest in the US.

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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Manial » Thu Mar 04, 2010 1:49 pm UTC

It's not a major problem, but there's definitely an issue here. What if the child misheard what his father was saying and said the wrong thing? There's a reason why air traffic controllers don't relay information to untrained people with pleasant voices.

It is pretty irresponsible when you consider how easily things can go wrong with air traffic controlling (see this worst case scenario), and how many people are at risk.

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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Levi » Thu Mar 04, 2010 2:18 pm UTC

Manial wrote:There's a reason why air traffic controllers don't relay information to untrained people with pleasant voices.


And it's not because that's a really inefficient way to do things?

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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby tzvibish » Thu Mar 04, 2010 3:04 pm UTC

It's probably just a liability thing. The FAA had to crack down simply to cover their asses in case someone decided to report it and it was found that the FAA knew about it and let it slide. I doubt it had, in reality, anything to do with actual security and safety.

Btw, off-topic, but best ATC sketch ever (from SNL):
http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/ ... ba/926181/
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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Buddha » Fri Mar 05, 2010 3:25 am UTC

SlyReaper wrote:What a load of fuss over nothing. There was no harm done. At all. There was never even any danger of harm being done, because the dad was sitting next to the kid, and still monitoring the equipment. My mind boggles at how anyone could be so uptight about this. It's like firing a baker because he put an extra chocolate chip in each of his cookies.

Absolutely fricking bananas.


Actually, it's less reasonable than that. The owner has to pay for those chocolate chips. If they have a standard, then they can keep costs low, and provide more accurate nutritional information.
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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Ivora » Fri Mar 05, 2010 3:45 am UTC

From what I heard, he was doing quite well.

Just like his old man.

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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby yoni45 » Fri Mar 05, 2010 6:14 pm UTC

I'm guessing this guy must've been fired rather brutally... ^_^

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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby feedme » Mon Mar 08, 2010 4:39 pm UTC

From what I heard, the kid wasn't just screaming random things into the mic, his dad was telling him what to say. Granted, it's not professional and whatnot, but I wouldn't think it would be cause for a firing. And even if that's the case, how the hell did the media pick up on it? Shouldn't that have been kept relatively in house until the situation was taken care of? (Or is that too ideal of an assumption?)

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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Dauric » Mon Mar 08, 2010 4:56 pm UTC

feedme wrote:From what I heard, the kid wasn't just screaming random things into the mic, his dad was telling him what to say. Granted, it's not professional and whatnot, but I wouldn't think it would be cause for a firing. And even if that's the case, how the hell did the media pick up on it? Shouldn't that have been kept relatively in house until the situation was taken care of? (Or is that too ideal of an assumption?)


There's a brand of 'ambulance-chaser' in both legal and media that finds it profitable to hang out listening to broadcasts for news before it's public like eavesdropping on Police Band radios or ATC frequencies. There's also a few aircraft enthusiasts that enjoy listening to ATC frequencies the way other people like listening to ocean sounds or rain on their roof. Either one could have overheard the ATC.
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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby feedme » Tue Mar 09, 2010 3:40 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:There's a brand of 'ambulance-chaser' in both legal and media that finds it profitable to hang out listening to broadcasts for news before it's public like eavesdropping on Police Band radios or ATC frequencies. There's also a few aircraft enthusiasts that enjoy listening to ATC frequencies the way other people like listening to ocean sounds or rain on their roof. Either one could have overheard the ATC.


Ah, I hadn't thought of that. I was thinking about the pilots and how they didn't seem to mind. Actually they seemed to get a kick out of it.

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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Zamfir » Tue Mar 09, 2010 3:46 pm UTC

The famous case. In the mid-nineties, a Russian Airbus pilot let his son "fly" the aircraft while it was on autopilot. The kid accientally disabled autopilot control of the ailerons and the aircraft started to bank sharply. The pilot were confused, because the autopilot appeared to be on , and by the time they realized what was happening the aircraft was in an uncontrolable dive.

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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Dauric » Tue Mar 09, 2010 3:54 pm UTC

feedme wrote:
Dauric wrote:There's a brand of 'ambulance-chaser' in both legal and media that finds it profitable to hang out listening to broadcasts for news before it's public like eavesdropping on Police Band radios or ATC frequencies. There's also a few aircraft enthusiasts that enjoy listening to ATC frequencies the way other people like listening to ocean sounds or rain on their roof. Either one could have overheard the ATC.


Ah, I hadn't thought of that. I was thinking about the pilots and how they didn't seem to mind. Actually they seemed to get a kick out of it.


And that's really the sad thing about the whole episode. An entire tower of traffic controllers, and a field of professional pilots all doing their job don't seem to have a problem, but because it got out in to the media the bureaucrats have to go in to Cover Your Ass-ets mode because some Armchair asshat could use that recording to sue the airport. Fortunately the ATC and his supervisor were put on -paid- suspension pending investigation rather than -unpaid-.

Zamfir wrote:The famous case. In the mid-nineties, a Russian Airbus pilot let his son "fly" the aircraft while it was on autopilot. The kid accientally disabled autopilot control of the ailerons and the aircraft started to bank sharply. The pilot were confused, because the autopilot appeared to be on , and by the time they realized what was happening the aircraft was in an uncontrolable dive.


But this wasn't piloting a plane, and as has been pointed out earlier in the thread the kid was coached through -takeoff- routines, not landing. The aircraft were firmly on the ground and not in danger of crashing, and if something sounded off the pilots would have asked the tower to repeat and confirm the order. Seriously, the sky was not falling here.
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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Chen » Tue Mar 09, 2010 4:31 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:But this wasn't piloting a plane, and as has been pointed out earlier in the thread the kid was coached through -takeoff- routines, not landing. The aircraft were firmly on the ground and not in danger of crashing, and if something sounded off the pilots would have asked the tower to repeat and confirm the order. Seriously, the sky was not falling here.


To be fair miscommunications with aircraft on the ground can also lead to some pretty serious disasters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenerife_airport_disaster). That being said it definitely didn't seem like there was anything extraordinary going on here. As I said before the only real issue would be that the ATC would be slightly more distracted by having to relay things to his kid. While it might deserve a reprimand of some sort (being distracted as an ATC is bad) it certainly has been blown WAY out of proportion in the media, which of course leads to people wanting to cover their asses so as not to risk lawsuits and such.

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Re: Kid Controls Air Traffic

Postby Diadem » Tue Mar 09, 2010 4:43 pm UTC

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the father was probably much more focussed and concentrated on his job while his kid was behind the buttons, then he would have been on an ordinary day. Air traffic controllers are people. They chat with collegues, they let their mind wander, they get distracted by things happening around the office. Also he's probably not working alone, is he? He must have colleagues who stand in for him when he's off to get a coffee.

The only question is: During an emergency, is he able to remove his kid and focus 100% on the job fast enough. I don't see why the answer shouldn't be 'yes'.
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