NEW YORK – As planes waited to take off from Kennedy Airport, the jargon-packed radio chatter between controllers and pilots was interrupted by a young boy’s voice: “JetBlue 171, cleared for takeoff.”
An air traffic controller who brought his son to work let the youngster read a few routine messages to pilots – and then brought in another child the next day – in an incident that amused pilots but not the Federal Aviation Administration.
Authorities suspended the controller and a supervisor Wednesday after a recording of the radio calls was posted on the Internet, then reported by a Boston television station.
“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,” FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a statement.
During his visit, the boy got to squeak out a few more instructions to pilots before signing off, including telling the crew aboard a departing Aero Mexico flight, “Adios, amigos.”
On the recording, which lasts about a minute, the elementary-school-age boy appears to repeat instructions fed to him by his father. At no time does the child tell aircraft how to maneuver in flight.
At the time, pilots appeared delighted.
“I wish I could bring my kid to work,” one said.
Nevertheless, the FAA said it has also barred unofficial visits by friends or relatives to FAA air traffic operational areas while it reviews its policies.
Radio transmissions between air traffic controllers and pilots are routinely streamed live on the Internet. A user of one popular Web site devoted to controller talk, LiveATC.net, posted a recording of the child’s radio calls not long after they happened on Feb. 16.
The boy made five transmissions to pilots preparing for departure, according to the recording.
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.
The FAA offered scant detail on its investigation and would not reveal the name of the controller or supervisor. Control towers are highly secure areas, although the agency does sometimes give employees permission to bring their children for a tour.
The union representing air traffic controllers condemned the worker’s behavior.
“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,” the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said in a statement.