Someone is always listening. That is part of the job description of being an air traffic controller. We hope the pilots are listening, but isn't always the case based on some recent "NORDO" events that have made headlines. LiveATC.net doesn't have any live feeds of my area, so bad phraseology and dumb jokes tend to go unnoticed by the public. But everything we do is taped by the FAA. Every computer input is reviewable. And the blips/airplanes are full of people. We all take that very seriously, but, at the same time, have to put these things in the back of our minds to do our job successfully.
Things are sometimes said on frequency that we immediately regret, or at least a "I hope nothing happens to this guy or they're gonna pull the tapes" thought flashes through our minds for a moment, and then we move on and keep working. Our workday consists of many ups and downs, and we often go from being freakishly busy to mostly dull and back again within the course of a shift. That's just how airline schedules work. These "dull" times aren't void of airplanes, but there is nothing complicated happening. These are often the times when silly comments are made, or we spend a few seconds longer inquiring about the ride reports, or ask an simple question about a new aircraft's performance. It keeps us sane and alert.
Controllers are paid a lot of money to make good judgment calls thousands of times, if not millions of times, a day. As much as it is a part of our job, we are NOT solely paid to talk on the radio, nor is issuing clearances on frequency the most difficult part of our job. This job is all about formulating a plan and a series of timed transmissions to make the plan work. We are paid to manage our airspace and our frequencies together.
This is in response to all the media hoopla in regards to a controller that let his child transmit to airplanes. The child was not being an air traffic controller. The child was not in control of the airspace. The child was relaying clearances that the controller was instructing the child to transmit on frequency, in a similar fashion that FSS controllers relay clearances to planes at uncontrolled airports. (This is NOT intended to undermine my FSS friends, just to make a point) The controller, who is trusted to make judgments about everything else in regards to his operational position, apparently is not trusted to determine that two airplanes awaiting takeoff at one of the busiest airports in the world is slow enough to let his child have a great experience on his winter break with his dad at work. If something other than "cleared for takeoff" and "contact departure" needed to be said, it WOULD have been said.
Sorry for the op-ed piece. Let's focus on stuff that is actually unsafe. Check out the newest adjacent sector "ATCfreqs" for some important information about ERAM. Let's not get distracted by a controller who can't get a day off to spend with his kid because the FAA is under-staffing his tower.
Till next time...