Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Child's Play at JFK

Plenty of discussion on the Sig about that cute air traffic control kid this week. You know: the one overheard teasingly instructing a Bolivian airline crew to preface their fuel emergency with, "Simon Says ..."

Or not quite.

Anyone who's heard the recordings can hear that the kid who handled a few flights at JFK in mid February did just fine. He gave a few "cleared for takeoff" instructions.

This 'drome & farm blogger's gut reaction? Yeah, I'd let my kid do that too, if I thought I could get away with it. No harm, no foul.

But aviation is not a no-harm, no-foul world, and the point is reinforced by commentary on AVSIG.

Many "No big deal" responses peppered with "Yeah, but somebody's gonna get a little vacation" and one resolute and paraphrased "That man should be fired ... end of story."

These varied views are very much a collision between people from different workplace rules backgrounds. Private industry tends to tolerate workplace anomalies until a bad quarterly report or lawsuit trend develops, whereas government workplace protocol is more often than not some version of U.S. Postal Service rules-accretion mayhem.

One of our members compared JFK Kiddie Kontrol to the Aeroflot Airbus A310 flight that was turned into Take your Son to Work Day by a crew member on March 23, 1994. Investigation concluded that the 15-year-old boy inadvertently disconnected autopilot authority from some flight controls as he sat in the cockpit of the Airbus, sending the plane into a dive that Dad & Co. could not recover. The airliner crashed into a hillside in Kemerovo Oblast, killing all 75 aboard.

On its face, the Kids in the Tower incidents (two siblings on consecutive days) don't compare to letting a teenager fly an airliner full of passengers, but in an imperfect world, if just one crew on the ground at JFK got distracted by workplace fun & games in the control tower, something horrific very well may have happened, and we wouldn't be light-heartedly blogging about this right now.

Many of our members pointed out that all aspects of aviation have become zero-tolerance affairs, a factor that weighs into the reaction from the spoilsport side of the floor.

A rubber-gloved gauntlet to run before entering airline terminals.

Play Doh confiscated.

Recently, authorities at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport were called to the scene of a roll of toilet paper by airline personnel who were cleaning a plane that had just arrived from Toledo. Situation: White powder found on toilet paper. Investigatory Conclusion: White toilet paper dust generated by white toilet paper.

Like it or not, the Zero Tolerance crowd is onto something.

We're about a century past barnstorming, and about a decade past demonstrating any emotion exceeding stone-faced in the presence of an Official Anybody prior to boarding (and once aboard) an airliner.

If there's a silver lining in the swift death of Take Your Child to Work Day at the ATC tower, it's in the prospect of explaining to future generations of children who will be denied this work experience day that there is no room for distraction or error in mommy or daddy's job directing airplanes -- that the job is just *that* important.

It's in explaining to children that there are some job disciplines that simply don't permit an environment of good-natured goofing off ... some jobs that require all the attention, all the time, of at least one trained adult.

It's in reminding your kids of exactly what they proceeded to do the first time they found themselves playing with two toy airplanes at once.


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