Wednesday, March 03, 2010
"Flight 7845 to Little Jimmy in the Tower ... Clearance for Takeoff?'
[UPDATE, March 5 -- See below, with comments and reply]
Gawd almighty, I do not know which is worse in terms of regularly making idiots of themselves -- the TSA or the FAA.
Today the FAA pulls out front, with reports that the grade-school-age son of an air traffic controller was allowed to issue five separate tower-to-cockpit verbal transmissions to pilots preparing to take off at Kennedy airport.
Here is a link to the audio.
[UPDATE: And oh, man, note in that link that a second child has now turned up playing air-traffic controller in the JFK tower.]
Hey, some fun we're havin!
The FAA calls the incident a "lapse in judgment" and has suspended the controller and a supervisor.
Some controllers are unhappy, believing that an innocuous situation has been blown out of proportion, and that the kid was not creating a safety hazard because he was merely repeating what his father told him to say. But the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said, a little weakly if you ask me: "It is not indicative of the highest professional standards that controllers set for themselves and exceed each and everyday in the advancement of aviation safety."
Why is this worth noting? Well, just consider: If this were pilots screwing around on the cockpit radio during departure it would be literally a federal case. And I know a little something personally about the profound consequences of laxity and poor supervision in air traffic control -- though thankfully not in the U.S., where our air traffic control system is the finest in the world.
One aviation buff quoted in the MSNBC story insisted, "It was a controlled situation."
UPDATE, March 5 -- To the comments below, from sensible and courteous readers who seem to be knowledgable about air-traffic control, I will say only this:
I am obviously especially sensitive to laxity in air-traffic control because I (barely) survived a mid-air collision over the Amazon in 2006 that was caused (as the National Transportation Safety Board found) by laxity, poor supervision and systemic problems in Brazilian air-traffic control. The other plane involved in that disaster crashed in the jungle, with 154 killed. Other factors may have contributed to the accident, but the central role of air-traffic control was crucial, and the laxity in training and supervision is not in dispute. Ask any pilot who flies the Amazon skies -- though by many accounts Brazilian air traffic control has improved steadily since the disaster.
American air-traffic control is the world's best. But there are problems in the towers. In 1981, Ronald Reagan fired 13,000 striking air traffic controllers, and their replacements are now at or near retirement age. Staffing in towers is at critical levels. In some towers, as many as half of the controllers on duty are trainees.
This is no time to be screwing around, letting kids play with the active tower-to-cockpit communications. Kids should not be in the towers in the first place.
It's a matter of professionalism. And as I said, if pilots were screwing around with communications during departure operations, it would be literally -- literally -- a federal case.