March 4, 2010

Commentary: Junior ATC, The FAA and Bring your Kid to Work Day

Have you heard the audio of the kid directing air traffic. You can find it here, along with some commentary on the fact that the father, a New York air traffic controller was suspended, along with his supervisor, for irresponsibility. Many in the aviation community have chimed in for, or against the FAA's decision. So at the risk of being a monday-morning quarterback, here's mine.

Every parent brings their kid to work with them at some point. Maybe school was closed and they couldn't find a sitter, or the kid is sick and the parent can't stay home for whatever reason. When I was a kid, I went to work with my father a few times. My father was the purchasing manager for a regional lumber yard catering to the housing industry during this time. He spent his day on the phone with sellers and sending e-mails.

Each and every time I remember my dad reminding me to pack a coloring book, toys or something to keep me occupied because he was going to be very busy and couldn't entertain me like he did at home. This was normal, and I understood as well as I guess a child can. And so those few times I would spend the day at my father's work I would mind my own business as my father spoke with buyers on the phone and typed away at what passed for a computer back then. When he got a break he would come over talk and spend time, but that time was few and far between.

There were limits, too, on what I could and could not do. A lot of the 'cool' things that I wanted to try were, rightly so, forbidden. "Dad, can I ride on the forklift" No. "Can I help in the hardware store?" No. "Can I see the cranes lifting the wood into the warehouse?" No. Some of these were safety-related (kids don't have the best situational awareness) and some were just plain inappropriate. A kid minding a hardware store is not a very good thing.

Now that I'm in the workforce, I see similar trends. Many of my coworkers will bring their kids with them to work, but they undergo the same ritual my father and I underwent all those years ago. They sit in the corner minding their own business, coloring books, playing with a favorite toy, doing homework, as their parent tries hard to accomplish the day's goals.

With that being said, it is not a bad thing for this father to bring his young son to work with him as an air traffic controller. He probably even had the son pack his favorite toy, homework or a book to read. But, although its the aviation equivalent in 'cool factor' of riding a forklift at the lumber yard, kids should not be allowed to direct air traffic. As awesome as it is for a youngster, and as much as I'm sure many of us would have wanted that kind of opportunity at that age, kids simply lack the situational awareness and maturity to handle this kind of environment. .

I'm absolutely sure that the father was standing over his shoulder and telling him what to say. I'm also absolutely sure that the father was ready to step in and correct a mistake immediately. This still does not excuse the fact that he should have said to his son "Sorry, but I can't do that or I could get in trouble". Or, do what my parents did to get me off their backs: "Maybe next time".


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