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JFK air traffic controller lets kids direct planes, people overreact

An air-traffic controller put passengers in double jeopardy by letting his 9-year-old son direct planes at JFK - and repeating the stunt with the boy's twin sister the next day, probers said Wednesday night.

Controller Glenn Duffy was already in trouble for allowing his son to give instructions to pilots preparing for take-off on Feb. 16.

The Federal Aviation Administration then discovered Duffy pulled the boneheaded move again with the boy's twin sister, sources said.

The 48-year-old Long Island dad and a supervisor have been suspended and will likely lose their jobs, sources told the Daily News.

"This lapse in judgment not only violated FAA's own policies, but common sense standards for professional conduct," FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said.

"These kinds of distractions are totally unacceptable."

Duffy apparently brought his pint-sized wingmen to work during the recent winter school break - and then let them chat with pilots at the nation's sixth-busiest airport.

About 8 p.m. on Feb. 16, his elementary-school-aged son spoke five times to pilots operating four separate planes.

"JetBlue 171 cleared for takeoff," the boy says in his first call.

His dad then gives more detailed instructions to the pilot and announces: "Here's what you get, guys, when the kids are out of school."

In a second exchange, the boy instructs the same JetBlue flight to contact departure controllers.

The pilot replies: "Over to departure JetBlue 171, awesome job!"

Regulators weren't so amused. They said the move endangered hundreds of passengers.

The FAA said the supervisor on duty on Feb. 17 - when Duffy brought another child to work - has not been disciplined. The investigation is ongoing.

No one was home last night at Duffy's home on a private road in Stony Brook, L.I. He could not be reached for comment.

News that Duffy - a former president of the Newark chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association - was on the verge of getting fired was met by disgust by retired pilots.

"I can assure you that at no time was the safety of the public compromised," said Ross (Rusty) Aimer, 65, a former United Airlines pilot with nearly 40 years of experience.

"This was really a non-event. It's almost like putting your child in your lap in an empty parking lot for the first time and letting him hold onto the wheel. The air-traffic controller was in command the whole time."

Travelers at Kennedy Airport offered a vastly different view.

"Even if there were professionals around, it seems a bit irresponsible," said Maura Kilfeather, a 26-year-old flight attendant. "I could see him coming to observe, but a kid talking to pilots? Anything could go wrong."


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Posted in: News by SoulRiser on March 21, 2010 @ 8:02 PM

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