Civil Aviation

Airline captain explains why arguments between pilots and ATCs are more frequent at New York JFK than in other airports

Arguments between pilots and ATCs

Pilots and air traffic controllers (ATCs) don’t usually argue, but when they do it is usually about some misunderstanding or confusion about instructions. Other times it is when an aircraft is instructed to do something, and the pilot replies “unable” like being directed to turn in the direction of a thunderstorm or to make a crossing restriction altitude that can’t be done, or a speed that is imprudent.

However, as John Chesire, former US airline captain, explains on Quora, an argument between pilots and ATCs ‘is very rare. I never did argue while inflight or while taxiing but I did have a First Officer once who started an argument with approach control and as Captain, I had to tell him to stop, which he did.

‘I did have one major problem with ATC once. Instead of arguing over the air, I waited until I landed. Then I called the facility to inform them of the problem I had. I was surprised and actually felt bad when they called me a few days later. They had reviewed the tapes and found the controller was at fault. He was therefore placed on a temporary suspension.

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Arguments are more frequent at New York JFK

‘While arguments are rare, I have heard a number like this at New York’s JFK Airport. This is not surprising though. It is a very busy airport. The myriad of taxiways, the stress on the controllers, the many international flights where a language accent is sometimes difficult all contribute to a situation as in the linked example.

‘There are no rookies at JFK, either in the tower or in the aircraft. Everyone is highly experienced and professional. However, it can be extremely busy and stressful there for everyone, and the taxiway routing can be sometimes confusing. Thus, there are occasionally some pointed words back and forth there, far more than any other airport I have been.’

Chesire concludes;

‘I should add that arguments on frequency are counterproductive and do not accomplish anything positive for anyone. However, what they do is tie up the radio frequency unnecessarily, blocking other tower and aircraft transmission that are far more important and safety related. Not good!’

The following video posted by ATC Audio YouTube Channel features a New York JFK airport ATC arguing with a Boeing 767 pilot after aborted landing. According to the video description, a Delta Air Lines Boeing 767-332ER registration N186DN, performing flight DAL45 from Dublin International Airport (EIDW) to New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (KJFK) being on short final of runway 31L at JFK, at about 1.5 mile final, flight crew decided to go around. The pilots reported that there was no room for landing because of departing Boeing 777-3FX ER.

Photo credit: ATC Audio

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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