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Published: Sunday, 3/7/2010

No play in the air tower

RADIO instructions relayed by a 7-year-old in an air traffic control tower at one of the nation's busiest airports are not cute. Such complacency could have compromised the high concentration required to direct aircraft filled with passengers.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating who allowed two children to contact pilots from the control tower at New York's Kennedy Airport. Some occupations are not appropriate for Take Your Child To Work Day. An air traffic controller, juggling jumbo jets at 30,000 feet, is one of them.

Yet a controller let his young son talk to five pilots, clearing three jets for departure on Feb. 16. The next day, according to the FAA, the employee let his daughter speak with two pilots over air traffic radios. The controller and his supervisor have been suspended during the investigation.

Some say the incident is overblown, that the air traffic controller was in charge at all times, and that the safety of the flying public was never compromised. However, there's always the potential for curious grade-schoolers to slow Dad's reaction to a situation that might need split-second attention.

Letting kids transmit radio messages to aircraft was an astonishing lapse in judgment that the FAA says violated not only its own policies "but common sense standards for professional conduct." Harmless fun? Not when so many lives were at risk.

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