FAA Investigating Air Traffic Controller’s Joke That Led Pilot To Call Off Landing 1,000 Feet From The Ground

It’s never in good taste to make a joke about the safety of airplanes or their passengers. And it’s especially frowned upon when the person making the joke is tasked with safely guiding a flight’s landing.

The Federal Aviation Administration opened an investigation into a joke made by an air traffic controller that caused a pilot to call off a landing attempt at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport last week, Atlanta’s WXIA reports.

According to the FAA, Delta flight 630 from Detroit was just 1,000 feet off the ground when an air traffic controller told the pilot to circle the airport instead of landing.

Just seconds later, the controller told the pilot he was just joking and to disregard his earlier statement.

“I’m kidding, Delta 630. After you land, I’ve got no one behind you. Expect to exit right.”

But it was too late, the pilot had already called off the landing and abruptly changed the Boeing 777’s course. After circling the airport, the pilot landed the plane without issue on his second approach.

While FAA officials wouldn’t specifically address the incident, they confirmed an investigation was opened and that they don’t believe the passengers, the pilot or the plane were ever in real danger.

Any decisions on disciplining the controller won’t be made until the investigation concludes.

Air traffic controller ‘joke’ diverts plane just before landing [WXIA]

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  1. mrkake says:

    The way it’s written it doesn’t sound like a joke… In 2014 just because someone says “just kidding” doesn’t mean it was a joke. Anyone who speaks common English knows that more likely translates to “Oops I made a mistake”. Without details more than this article or the linked article provides, I don’t know if it WAS a weird joke or not, but from the information in the article is seems like the ATC thought they weren’t clear to land, then realized they were and corrected himself, which is arguably better than accidentally telling the plane to land if it wasn’t safe… So they had to circle one time, big deal??? I think the bigger concern here is why humans can’t say things like “Oops just kidding” without being misinterpreted.

    • ReverendTed57 says:

      That seems to be a reasonable explanation for the incident. “I’m kidding” meaning “Oh wait, oops, nevermind”. The tone could be helpful in determining the ATC’s intent.
      I’m sure there’s a proper lexicon in ATC for “scratch that” though, and “I’m kidding” strikes me as a likely breach of protocol.

  2. FusioptimaSX says:

    …And they say the English language is the international language of choice…