Kid Controller Controversy: Boy Directs JFK Air Traffic

Contollers suspended after allowing a child to instruct pilots.

March 3, 2010, 7:50 AM

March 3, 2010— -- JFK airport is one of the largest airports in the country, handling a thousand takeoffs and landings a day. But at approximately 8 pm on the evening of Feb. 16 a child was caught on tape in the control tower directing air traffic and giving instructions to pilots.

"Jet Blue 171, clear for takeoff," the young boy said, according to audio recordings from

The boy was speaking to Sacramento bound Airbus A320 that departed JFK airport at 7:56pm, according to, a Website that tracks flight information.

The pilot replied "Clear for takeoff, 171."

The child's father, who is a certified controller, brought his son to work with him but then put him to work as well, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

"This is what you get, guys, when the kids are out of school," the father said to a pilot.

"Wish I could bring my kid to work," the pilot responded.

Yet on the audio recording, the pilots appear more amused than worried.

"Jet Blue 171, contact departure," the boy, who is believed to be around 8 or 9 -years-old, said.

"Over to Jet Blue departure, 171. Awesome job," the pilot responded.

The young boy continued directing pilots for several takeoffs.

"4-0-3, prepare for takeoff," the boy said. According to this Aeromexico flight was departing at 7:56 pm for Mexico City.

"4-0-3, preparing for takeoff. Thank you very much, have a great day," the pilot responded.

" A-Mex 4-0-3, contact departure, adios," the boy said.

"Adios, amigo," the boy said, speaking to another plane.

"Adios, amigo," the pilot responded. "Over to departure, Jet Blue 195."

Jet Blue flight 195 departed at 7:58 pm for Las Vegas, according to

The FAA, which hasn't released the names of the controllers involved, is not treating this as a joke. It is investigating the controller, as well as a supervising controller. Both have been relieved of their duties, the FAA said.

"This behavior is not acceptable and does not demonstrate the kind of professionalism expected from FAA employees," the agency said in a statement.

The air traffic controllers' union echoed the FAA, saying in a statement: "We do not condone this type of behavior in any way" and said it does not represent "the highest professional standards controllers set for themselves."

John Nance, an ABC News consultant and a former pilot, said the incident was "like the equivalent of having my kid on my knee while landing an airplane as a commercial pilot, it is simply not permissible."

But while Nance called the incident "a rather substantial error in judgment on the part of the controllers," he said there was not a danger to the airplane or passengers.

"Safety wasn't involved because we have a very exquisitely developed method of read back and the controller was right there with this kid. If the kid had said something wrong and that had been read back incorrectly he would have been able to catch it instantaneously," Nance said.

In a statement released this afternoon the FAA said that it would also suspend "all unofficial visits to FAA air traffic control operational areas, such as towers and radar rooms," during the investigation. The agency said it will also conduct a review of its policies on visitors.

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