Skip to main content

Air traffic controller, supervisor on leave after kids talk to pilots

Click to play
Kid directing air traffic?
  • Air traffic controller at New York airport brought young children to work
  • Child was recorded communicating with planes
  • Child to plane: "Jet Blue 171, cleared for takeoff"
  • Investigation is under way; controllers involved are on leave

Washington (CNN) -- An air traffic controller and his supervisor are under investigation because the controller allegedly brought his two small children into the control tower and allowed them to speak with pilots on an air traffic control frequency.

The incidents occurred on succeeding days last month at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday. Both the controller and the supervisor have been placed on paid administrative leave.

"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," administrator Randy Babbitt said in the statement.

"We have an incredible team of professionals who safely control our nation's skies every single day. This kind of behavior does not reflect the true caliber of our work force."

Babbitt's statement concerned an incident that took place on February 16 involving the controller's young son, who is heard in a recording -- posted on -- clearing a Jet Blue flight for takeoff and later speaking to an apparent Air Mexico flight.

Later, an FAA official who asked not to be identified because of the ongoing investigation said the controller brought his daughter into the same tower the following day, and the child was allowed to talk with pilots of two planes.

A source familiar with the investigation said the supervisor "should be making sure that things like this don't happen."

A separate source familiar with the investigation said the two children are twins.

The controller and supervisor involved are both veteran employees, the official said.

But Dave Pascoe owner of the Web site where recordings of the air traffic communications are posted, told CNN he believes the attention the incident has drawn is "ridiculous" and it has been "blown out of proportion."

In one recording, a child can be heard saying, "JetBlue 171, cleared for takeoff."

Video: Kid directs jets at JFK
Video: Child in the control tower

A man is then heard telling the plane, "Here's what you get, guys, when the kids are out of school."

The pilot chuckles and says, "Wish I could bring my kid to work." The same pilot later tells the child, "Awesome job."

During the recording, the child also speaks to an apparent Air Mexico flight.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown later said the incident took place about 7:30 p.m. February 16.

A recording from the following day, when the daughter was reportedly in the tower, was also posted on the Web site.

Pascoe said most people "in the aviation community felt like this was [not] anything more than a noble thing, that a father would take his kid to work.

"And when you listen to any of the recordings, the situation in the tower is very controlled. There is no hint ... that anyone was too busy or anyone was interrupting the planes. ... It was very controlled, and I don't think safety was compromised, nor should anyone be disciplined for this," said Pascoe, who is also a pilot.

The recording was from a network of receivers, he said, but couldn't reveal the source. The site exists for pilot education, he said, and sometimes other curious parties listen in.

There was "absolutely no security threat" posed by the incident, he said.

"I have every belief that they'd make sure there were additional eyes there," Pascoe said. "Only the best of the best work at JFK tower, and they are the best at what they do.

"If you know anything about aviation, you know that the air traffic control towers are highly supervised," he said. "JFK is highly supervised. It's not just one controller controlling the runway. Supervisors are there, and multiple people are there making sure by looking through binoculars and at radar. ... A father was taking a child to work and let the kid clear planes for takeoff, and now the world thinks it's an unsafe place."

The FAA said all unofficial visits to air traffic control operational areas, such as towers and radar rooms, will be suspended during its investigation into the incident. Babbitt has directed a team to review air traffic control policies and procedures related to facility visitors.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union representing controllers, said in a statement, "We do not condone this type of behavior in any way.

"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," spokesman Doug Church said in the statement.

CNN's Mike Ahlers, Jean Shin and Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.