Child's play at NY air traffic tower sparks inquiry

NEW YORK Wed Mar 3, 2010 6:19pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two young children were allowed to direct air traffic, apparently under adult supervision, at John F. Kennedy International Airport last month, the Federal Aviation Authority said on Wednesday.

An airport supervisor and an air traffic controller have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation into the incidents, the FAA said.

In an incident on February 16, revealed in transmissions broadcast by local media, a boy believed to be 7 years old can be heard directing pilots for departure.

"JetBlue 171 contact departure," he can be heard saying. The pilot replied: "Over to departure JetBlue 171, awesome job."

An adult can be heard telling a pilot: "This is what you guys get when the kids are out of school."

The FAA investigation turned up a second incident on February 17, involving a younger girl. Both were believed to be the children of the tower controller.

The girl spoke to pilots of a JetBlue flight and an American Airlines flight.

"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," FAA administrator Randy Babbitt said in a statement.

All unofficial visits to FAA air traffic control areas including towers and radar rooms will be suspended during the investigation, and a full review of policies and procedures regarding visitors will be made, the FAA said.

Nearly 48 million passengers pass through Kennedy airport annually.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Ellen Wulfhorst in New York and John Crawley in Washington; editing by Todd Eastham)

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