Last updated at 09:32 BST, Monday, 23 August 2010

Child directs air traffic at JFK


5 March 2010

US officials are investigating how a child was apparently allowed to direct planes at JFK airport. Pilots heard the voice of a surprisingly young boy instructing them from air traffic control.

James Gordon

An A320 Airbus


Click to hear the report:


JFK Airport in New York is one of the largest airports in the country, handling nearly a thousand take-offs and landings a day. But just after 8pm on the 16th of February, there was somebody else in the control tower directing air traffic and giving instructions to pilots.

Recording from air traffic control:
Boy: JetBlue 171 clear for take off.
Pilot: Clear for take off JetBlue 171.

The boy was speaking to an airbus A320 heading for Sacramento. The child's father, who is a certified controller, brought his son to work and then put him to work as well.

Recording from air traffic control:
Boy: JetBlue 171 contact departure.
Pilot: Over to departure JetBlue 171. Awesome job.

The young boy continued directing pilots for several take-offs, pilots appearing to be more amused than worried.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates Americas airports, hasn't released the names of the controllers involved but it's not treating it as a joke. It's investigating the controller, as well as his supervisor. Both have been relieved of their duties.

Some are saying the incident is being blown out of proportion since the youngster was repeating standard, routine directions to pilots with the adults, presumably, alongside him. It's been revealed the controller in question brought his daughter in the following evening.

The FAA has released a statement saying "This lapse in judgement not only violated the FAA's own policies but common sense standards for professional conduct. These kinds of distractions are totally unacceptable."

James Gordon, BBC News, New York


Click to hear the vocabulary:


the control tower

the high building in an airport from where instructions are given to help people takeoff and land airplanes safely


people who fly airplanes

an Airbus A320

a type of airplane


thought something was funny

his supervisor

his manager, the person who makes sure that he does his job properly, gets training to do it and that his behaviour at work is acceptable

relieved of their duties

had their jobs taken away, are no longer allowed to work

is being blown out of proportion

is being made to seem much more serious than it actually is

lapse in judgement

unexpectedly bad decision


broke the rules or guidelines


things that stop people from paying attention and concentrating on what they should be doing

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