Air Traffic Controller Hands Reins to Kids

In this Feb. 19, 2007 file photo, Jet Blue aircraft are seen at JFK airport in New York.
AP Photo/Rick Maiman
Two weeks ago, several pilots at JFK International Airport in New York - one of the nation's busiest - heard a surprisingly tiny voice directing them from air traffic control. It was a young boy, brought along by his father to dispatch flights.

CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports the transmissions were simple.

"JetBlue (garbled) 171 clear for takeoff," came the voice of the boy.

"Clear for takeoff, JetBlue 171," came the pilot's cheerful reply.

Those JetBlue passengers headed to Sacramento, as many as 179 of them, likely had no idea a child was directing their pilot. Same with an Aeromexico flight headed to Mexico City.

"Amex 403 contact departure. Adios," the boy said.

"Contact departure, Aeromexico 423. Adios," the Aeromexico pilot replied.

In fact the boy was lauded by some of the seemingly amused pilots.

"JetBlue 171 contact departure," the boy said.

The JetBlue pilot's reply: "Over to departures Jetblue 171. Awesome job!"

The boy, whose name and age haven't been disclosed, was apparently supervised by his father, a controller named Glenn Duffy. As if that weren't enough, late Wednesday the FAA told CBS News Duffy allowed another child to interact with pilots the next night - one who sounds even younger than the first.

"Controllers need to respond instantly," said Peter Goelz, former managing staff director of the National Transportation Safety Board. "How you could put a kid there is beyond me."

The pilots seemed to understand the child, but we had difficulty when listening to the recordings.

Wednesday the Federal Aviation Administration called the incident at JFK - which averages 1,050 flights a day - a "lapse in judgment" that "not only violated FAA's own policies but common sense standards for professional conduct."

At one point in the recordings, the boy's father chimes in:

"This is what you get guys when the kids are outta school," the father said.

"Wish I could bring my kid to work," a pilot laughingly replied.

Both Duffy and his supervisor have been placed on leave.

  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.