March 3, 2010

Tykes On A Plane!

airplane_atc.jpgSomeone get these mother#$%in tykes off the air traffic control mic directing these mother(*#$%ing planes!

Eh, er, actually, it sounds more like a classic work/school scheduling mess meant an ATC controller at JFK had to bring his 5-year-old kid to work with him on February 17th, a Wednesday. And then he let his kid direct ground traffic at the airport.

The kid's dad then fed him five transmissions to planes on the taxi and runways. The kid ad-libbed the "Adios, amigos" to his Aero Mexico flight instructions himself.

Though none of the pilots or other ATC voices on the recordings seem anything but amused, NBC's Today Show was in full freakout mode, ending the segment with extended footage of the smoldering wreckage of a 1994 Aeroflot flight where the pilot let his 12-year-old son fly the plane.

I would respectfully argue that there are several orders of magnitude of difference of passenger safety risk between these two incidents. Unlike the chopped up snippets on NBC, the complete 1:13 recording [mp3, reg. req.], available at the air traffic control forum site, Live ATC, shows that the actual controller remained engaged and in control and seemed to have had his kid do only non-critical communications.

And judging by Live ATC's "Interesting Recordings" where the kid's action was first posted, pilots and air traffic controllers are doing far more distracting, far stupider-sounding things on a regular basis.

So if there's an actual "problem" here besides an instance of questionable judgment, it's the apparent lack of flexible, temporary childcare options for people in such supposedly critical jobs. But I don't see that discussion taking off anytime soon.

JFK tower allowed a kid to direct air traffic [msnbc via dave]
2010-02-17 01:36:11 New KJFK Controller? ? ? via cptbrw


Seems harmless to me.
May be poor judgment in case an emergency did develop. If there was bad weather or a requirement to ground many planes that would require all hand on deck in the tower it would probably be distracting or awkward to have a kid running around. As it played out, however, all critical parties seem comfortable with it.

Are you seriously suggesting that having a five-year-old in a control tower is not a problem? Whoa, you really lost me here.

Having a five-year-old in ANY office where actual work has to be done is a problem; having a young child underfoot when lives and deaths of other people may become an issue is way beyond "an instance of questionable judgment". Controller stress levels are a huge (and well-documented) problem to start with; adding in a childcare stint is just stupid and irresponsible.

No childcare? Too bad; you stay home, take care of the kid, and call in so that a sub can go in for you. A sub who will, presumably, be able to fully focus on moving hundreds, if not thousands, of strangers safely through the skies.

This fool should lose his job. That "pilots and air traffic controllers are doing far more distracting, far stupider-sounding things on a regular basis" is hardly justification for this idiocy.

actually, I'd be fine with the fool getting fired, as long as they first fire the fools doing crossword puzzles while landing in thunderstorms and whatever other, more threatening tower nonsense that doesn't make it onto the Today Show.

The childcare thing's a systemic problem, which'll never be solved. But it's secondary at best to the larger issue, which you rightly point out, of ATC's high stress work environment. If that poses an actual, demonstrable threat to passenger safety, then it should be addressed in a meaningful way. Firing the one guy unlucky enough to get Meredith Veirera worked up doesn't seem like it'll make anyone any safer.

I gotta say the media freak-out session is out of control. Has any of the freak-out people ever listened in to the ATC channel? These people talk about mowing their grass on Saturday and suchlike. Also, the kid was not "in control" of the air traffic even if the kid was giving the order. This is not difficult to discern and none of our wonderfully insightful media are making this distinction.

Child was directed what to say, and father was on the backup headset. Child spoke very clearly and did a better job than some of the trainees ATC I have spoken to as of late. As the father was posted for handling takeoffs at the time a delay in communication would not have resulted in a loss of separation. Come on people, do not let the media stir you up like this.

Thanks for taking the high road on this one. I'm a pilot, and I hear all sorts of nonsense on the radio. This kid did a fabulous job, and like Chris said, Dad was right there.

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