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Air traffic control in U.S.

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Narayan Lakshman

Planes were directed by two children on two occasions

Washington DC: Ever spent hours in a plane circling an airport and waiting to land? Ever thought to yourself the air traffic controllers must be a bunch of unqualified amateurs? Well if you were in one of the several planes that circled New York's John F Kennedy International Airport last month you may have been more accurate in your assumption than you'd imagined.

This week recordings from the airport's air traffic control tower emerged which revealed that on two occasions two children, a seven-year-old boy and an even younger girl according to reports, directed planes at one of the busiest airports in the world. Excerpts from the recording:

Girl: Comair 7-4-4 clear for takeoff!

Girl: JetBlue 3-8, clear for take off! (a few moments later — here an adult voice could be heard prompting her in the background.)

JetBlue pilot: Departure JetBlue 3-8, nicely done, see you later.

On the previous day, the boy was similarly engaged in managing air traffic at JFK:

Boy: A-Mex 4-0-3, contact departure. Adios!

Pilot Contact departure Aeromexico 4-0-3. Adios!

Boy (to another JetBlue pilot): Contact departure. Adios, amigos!

Pilot: Adios, amigos! Over to departure JetBlue 1-9-6.

Controller's voice: This is what you get, guys, when the kid is out of school… Pilots (chuckling): Wish I could bring my kid to work. Awesome job! According to reports, an air traffic controller permitted his children to enter the highly secure ATC tower area and communicate directly with pilots.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which has taken the incident seriously, said it had placed two employees at JFK Airport Tower on administrative leave “pending the outcome of an official FAA investigation into the incident which is already underway”.

“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,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “We have an incredible team of professionals who safely control our nation's skies every single day. This kind of behaviour does not reflect the true calibre of our workforce”, he said.

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