Plane Answers: JFK kid controller incident and a smoking 757

Probably the most popular offering on is the JFK ground and tower frequency. It’s rather entertaining to listen to the Kennedy controllers who are often faced with the daunting task of moving so many airplanes from all corners of the world with a variety of accents.

So it’s no surprise that when a JFK controller hosted a young visitor to the tower on February 17th, and even allowed the kid to make a few transmissions over the tower frequency, those listening to were there to catch it. And the TV reporters weren’t far behind.

The child, who was possibly the controller’s son, was heard handing off an Aeromexico and JetBlue flight to departure control as well as clearing the JetBlue flight for takeoff.

As a pilot, I’d probably react in the same way the JetBlue crew did. I’d get a chuckle out of it, but the FAA can’t possibly shrug off this now highly public incident. I just hope the controller doesn’t lose his job.

Frankly, these instructions could have been given in French and pilots would understand exactly what was instructed. And each pilot in this case read back the instructions clearly, so there was no misunderstanding. If the readback was incorrect, the controller would have jumped right in. So don’t believe the hype that a near disaster was narrowly avoided.

Of course we don’t bring our kids to work in the cockpit. In fact, there were two high profile examples of why this isn’t done. A Turkish pilot was fired in 2008 for letting a 15-year old sit in his seat.

And tragically, an Aeroflot flight crashed while the captain’s 15-year old son was flying. But a child saying adios from the tower to a departing flight isn’t exactly the same as letting a kid fly the plane.

No doubt the media will be all over this today. Here’s one report from The Early Show on CBS this morning that includes the kid’s ATC audio that was surely obtained from

And finally, we’re going to get back to more questions on Plane Answers. Here’s today’s:

Pete asks:

Dear Kent,

On a recent flight from BOS to SFO there was significant smoke from the engine when started. Let me lay the facts out… Light snow was falling. The plane needed to be de-iced. The plane was a 757. Upon starting the engine, significant smoke came from the engine. I worried at first but then figured it was because of the De-Icing solution. Is that correct and is it normal for smoke to come from the engine on start?

Good observation, Pete. The 757 and the Lockheed L-1011 use the Rolls-Royce RB211 engines which smoke quite a bit during engine start, especially on cold days. We’ve had passengers think the airplane was on fire during start, in fact.

While I’m not certain, it’s likely unburned fuel or pooling oil that’s at the root of this phenomenon. Either way, it’s definitely noticeable. Other jets don’t seem to produce the amount of smoke that this engine does on cold days.

De-Icing fluid can also cause a bit of smoke, but not as much as a cold 757 does.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for the next Plane Answer’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work. Twitter @veryjr