Feds Investigating Why Child Was Allowed to Direct New York Air Traffic

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating how and why a child last month was allowed to clear airplanes for takeoff from the control tower of New York's JFK airport. In an incident that has now become a viral hit on the Web, an air-traffic controller working at the JFK tower apparently brought his son to work on Feb. 17 and let him give instructions to pilots in the air. The FAA said that two employees at the tower, who have not been identified publicly, have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

"This lapse in judgment not only violated FAA's own policies, but common-sense standards for professional conduct," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a written statement. (A spokesman for NATCA, the air-traffic controllers' union, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.) The FAA said it has also banned all unofficial visits to FAA towers and radar rooms until the investigation is over. The agency is conducting what it described as a "full-scale review" of its policies related to visits by outsiders to its control facilities.

On the recording (transcribed here), the kid in the control tower, who is clearly being coached on what to say, is heard communicating with the pilots of at least two flights:

Child: "JetBlue 171, clear for takeoff."

Pilot: "Clear for takeoff, JetBlue 171."

Child: "JetBlue 171, contact departure."

Pilot: "Over to departure, JetBlue 171, awesome job."

Child: "Aeromex 403, contact departure, adios."

Pilot: "Contact departure, Aeromexico 403, adios."

On the tape, the pilots sound unfazed—and even amused—at being given instructions by a child. At one point, an adult can be heard telling the pilots: "That's what you get, guys, when the kids are out of school."