Thursday, May 6, 2010

ATC Intrigue At JFK

One of the coolest parts about being a pilot is not only communicating with air traffic control (ATC), but listening in on and understand the other dramas unfolding.   Pilots, like people in many other professions, communicate with their own language of jargon.   Such jargon was a highlight of the film Pushing Tin.

As a flight instructor, I spend a lot of time with my students at relatively uncrowded airports with no commercial service.    Nevertheless, as licensed pilots they need to be prepared to communicate with ATC at any airfield.   Therefore, I tell my students to spend some time listening to ATC at a major airfield, like JFK. Anyone can listen to the JFK tower over the internet through websites like

This week has been an especially exiting one at JFK in particular, and you can listen to the drama yourself.
First, there was the near departure of the Emirates flight with the suspected Times Square bomber on board.  You can listen to the conversation between the Emirates pilot and the tower, a mere seconds before departure.

It sounds really dramatic, indeed the flight was turned around seconds before departure.   On the other hand, had the plane departed, it could have been sent back to JFK, or diverted to Bangor Maine before leaving US airspace.   It is also possible that the authorities in Dubai might have apprehended the suspect upon landing, but then again Dubai is known to harbor terrorists.

The next clip is one that received just a little media attention.   In this instance, the captain of an American Airlines 767 is forced to declare an emergency when he encounters a strong crosswind.   He then gets pissed at the controllers after they are slow to give him a better runway.   You can listen to the clip at this link.   You can read a full discussion about the incident over at

I think the pilot and the controller could have handled the situation better, but I think the captain ultimately made the right call, unlike this one that I blogged about two years ago who tried to land on the wrong runway in a hideous crosswind.

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