Child in control tower

Ross Aimer
Airline Pilot
Wednesday, March 3, 2010; 2:00 PM

An Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controller and supervisor are under investigation for allowing a young child to direct flights at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Feb. 17. The child communicated with at least five pilots, clearing some of the flights for takeoff, the agency said.

Audio: Child in control tower

Ross Aimer, a 40-year United Airlines veteran pilot (now retired) and currently with Aviation Experts, was online Wednesday, March 3, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the incident.


Ross Aimer: As a professional airline pilot for 40 years, I've been dealing with air traffic controllers on a daily basis and I find them to be the utmost professional group of dedicated individuals. I have listened to the ATC tapes (Air Traffic Control) and in my opinion I can assure everyone that at no time was safety compromised.

This was a slow time at JFK and the air traffic controller in question was at all times in full control. In other words, with his finger on the button. If anything would've gone wrong, he would have stepped in immediately. And in fact, I'm certain he was coaching his kid what to say. Believe it or not, the kid said it perfectly with precise air traffic control lingo.


Springfield, Va.: Do you think it's misleading for the media to say that the child "directed" the flights?

Directing involves being in control. Simply repeating words your dad tells you is not directing. If it were we could hire anyone to do this job and just give them a handbook with no training.

I think this whole thing is being built up to sound like the child was in control when that doesn't seem to be the truth at all. It's my opinion that the dad remained in control the entire time. Isn't this just a case of the media trying to sensationalize a mundane story in the hope of getting higher ratings?

Ross Aimer: I could not agree more. I agree that at no time the child was in control. The father was in full control and the child was merely repeating his instructions.


Sterling, Va.: The media is making far more of this than it deserves. Yes, a lapse in professional judgement with purely superficial results, but not a safety issue. I have no doubt that someone was ready to jump in if he messed-up.

My experience as an Air Traffic Controller began in 1955 and ended in 1981 so I can also attest to the fact that this is far from being the first time that this type of thing was done using either children, female visitors with sexy voices or others. Nor, is it unique to the folks on the ground. I've known pilots to use Flight attendants (Stewardesses in my day) to handle the radio transmissions. Then there was the Piedmont Airlines driver who would announce his presence on the frequency with a recording of a steam locomotive chugging along and blowing it's whistle. We responded with a recording of a calliope playing Dixie. Also, during the 70s, Delta pilots insisted upon using CB jargon - "That's a big 10, 4 good buddy; 'mon back!"

Time to lighten up.

Ross Aimer: Again, I love the accuracy and correctness coming from both of thesee questions. My old traffic controller friend is absolutely correct.


D.C.: For someone who is a veteran pilot of 40 years I'm appalled by your assessment of the JFK situation. In this post 9/11 TSA high security aviation era we're in I'm shocked anyone associated within the avaition industry would be so cavalier. Passengers are under siege by the many outrageous security screenings we go through to fly today. For anyone in aviation to dismiss this as harmless fun should not be working in avaition.

Ross Aimer: I respect your opinion but I would like to ask why do you think that security or safety was breached? I don't see it, I could be wrong but I don't see any harm.


D.C.: Certainly not as bad as the Metro bus driver I once saw driving with a child on his lap.

But I'm not sure taking your child with you to a job that may--if rarely--require split-second decision-making is a good idea. Seems like just the time required to get them out of the way might affect the result.

Ross Aimer: Again, I have to explain that the child was not in control. The father was wearing his headset and in control of the transmission. At any moment he could interrupt the transmission and step in so there was no possible way that the child could give a harmful direction. That's why I don't see any reason to be alarmed by this incident.

This is not like giving the control of an aircraft (or a bus as you indicated) to a child. The father was in full control at all times.


Arlington, Va. - Ignoring tower security?: Security was breached the minute uncleared personnel entered the tower. I dont care if it was a kid or not. Whats next? A controllers girlfriend or parents? Uncleared means uncleared. I work in a DoD environment and we cannot just bring in whoever we want whenever we want because its "cute" or "fun".

Secure means secure -- not, "well, be secure if you feel like it, or else bring in a cute kid and have a few laughs"

Ross Aimer: Actually the air traffic control facilities have normal visiting hours for folks to visit. They encourage schoolsl, communities, etc., to actually visit the air traffic control facitiies. The security measures are in place and folks who visit these facilities are escorted and safety measures are in place for such visits.

_______________________ This concludes our discussion with Ross Aimer. Thank you for joining.


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