The overblown JFK tower story

Admittedly, it’s not a good idea to bring your kid into a control tower of a busy airport and let him say a few words on the radio, but if there’s a story being blown out of proportion today, this one is it.

The story, according to the major media, is that a boy “directed” air traffic control at JFK airport last month. He did nothing of the sort.

Many of the TV networks have taken the tapes of the kid, and spliced his transmissions together to create the illusion of a kid –and only a kid — running the tower at JFK. “Pushing tin,” as they say.

Here are the actual transmissions. You may note that it actually runs 10 minutes, and there are gaps of two minutes between transmissions. It was evening at JFK, and it wasn’t a busy place.

You’ll also note that — presumably — the kid’s dad was giving the boy the opportunity to say a few words between his own transmissions. He didn’t, as the network news reports are suggesting, let the boy give a stream of instructions.

  1. Listen Featured Audio

The controller will probably be disciplined for letting his son talk on the radio. But there’s no evidence to support the impression that someone’s safety was being compromised.

  • RadioNed

    Looks like controller is suspended so far.–FAA–Boy-Directed-Air-Traffic-from-JFK-Towe/6485851

    ..and yes the edited transmissions are So much more exciting. Is there more to the 10 minute raw loop? Did any pilot during this “event” speak out and suggest that perhaps this was ill-advised?

  • Bob Collins

    No, pilots are pretty smart. I think if one of them had been landing, there might have been a suggestion that maybe this wasn’t a great idea. But releasing someone for takeoff? Not so much.

  • Alison

    This overblown commotion brought to you by the same sorts of people who expell a kid from school because he had a box cutter from his job at a home improvement retailer in the cup holder of his car. Zero tolerance – hope you never ever screw up! You’ll be next.

  • BJ

    I don’t even need to listen!.

    Bob your great from bringing us this stuff with a open mind. And no ratings to grab 🙂

  • wendy gaskill

    Bob, I am sorry – you could not be more wrong. Pilots have had the fear of God put in them, if I were flying a plane and hear a child’s voice directing me, I would freak out. Is this voice real, can I trust what the kid is saying? Children should not be in the control tower.

  • Bob Collins

    No, you’re wrong. I COULD be more wrong. It happens quite often (g).

    Listen to the tape again. The pilots knew what was going on because the controller said to ’em first on “this is what happens when you bring your kids to work.”

    They understood.

    Also, air transport pilots don’t freak out. They just don’t. It’s not their nature or training. If they don’t believe or understand a radio transmission, they simply ask it to be repeated. It happens a million times a day.

    No, kids should not be in the control tower. And if the fact that one was is a big deal, then the story doesn’t need to be embellished.

    A kid wanted to see where Dad worked? And Dad indulged the kid a bit? Stupid perhaps. The next Fligth 183? No.

  • Alex

    “Pilots have had the fear of God put in them, if I were flying a plane and hear a child’s voice directing me, I would freak out. Is this voice real, can I trust what the kid is saying?”

    Spoken like a true sheep of the cable news… Pedophiles are lurking around every corner! Terrorists will blow up your house! Bacteria all over your food! Trust no one! Tune in for what to fear next!

    You need to get out a bit. Maybe since you think fearing god is good, you figure fearing everything else can be beneficial? I’d disagree.

  • Bob Collins

    What a lot of people don’t understand is there’s really only ONE directive that any of those pilots sitting on the runway were going to get — cleared for takeoff. Only one.

    There’s no directing an aircraft involved here. The controllers had already done that and had already done that. The kid just said the only thing that a pilot would expect to hear in that situation.

  • Sarah

    I don’t understand why so many people are making such a huge deal out of this. There was no danger in this situation. The kid’s dad was telling the kid exactly what to say and the pilots got a kick out of it. So overblown. Like the 6-year-old who gave his teacher a hug and was suspended for SEXUAL HARASSMENT. Or the kid who pointed a chicken strip at his teacher and said “bang bang”. He was suspended, too. People need to chill out and learn how to breathe again.

  • Jeff

    I was bothered that people made a big deal of a kid giving the “cleared for takeoff” instructions, but I can see where dad could easily have been distracted from his job (a job in which he’s relied on to protect peoples’ lives) with having to look after his kid. Is it different than a TSA worker bringing a kid to work and potentially missing a weapon because he/she has to also look after little Johnny/Suzie? Is it worthy of a suspension?

  • kennedy

    Bad judgement deserving of at most a short unpaid suspension (mainly due to the bad PR).

    The instruction parroted by the child was a clearance, not “directing planes”. Traffic was light, no one was in danger. Move along, nothing to see here.

    How about this;

    For a scary story: Air travel may increase the risk of heart problems

    Or some distraction: Upcoming reality television series on flight attendants.

  • Bob Collins

    I was driving home last night listening to a talk show on another radio station and the host was hysterical over the safety threat.

    And I got to thinking, “You know, there are a LOT more significant risks to air safety out there than this incident.” I’ve written numerous times about the “hidden airline” deal where big airlines contract their routes out to smaller carriers, who paint their planes to look like the big airline, only quite often the crews are not as experienced and the training not quite at the same level and VERY few people bothered to stifle a yawn.

    I don’t really understand sometimes how we decide our own hysteria.

  • Linean

    There is a reason the FAA has strict rules and procedures for cockpit and controller communications. Deviating from communications other than crucial to the business of controlling traffic detracts from concentration and over-all performance. I do not want the air traffic controller or pilot responsible for my flight to be distracted in any way. Also, in the post-9/11 environment, when security (especially for airliners) is so critical – why does anyone who doesn’t belong in the tower have access? This is bad business. Usually, I am on the side of the employee but in this case believe both controller and supervisor should be terminated.

  • justin

    First pilots and controllers talk alot more than just the ” crucial to the business ” stuff. thats like saying a cop should only talk to you if he is writing a ticke or arresting you. second as a pilot i know when i should be getting a take-off clearence because i can see the plain that took-off before me, so if i get it early i will ask for clearence again. and last, the controller was NOT distracted as he was still giving directions to incoming pilots and ( fi you listen closely ) trying to get a clearence to “jamaca”.