All Rise—Court is Now in Session

Two men have had their careers damaged—possibly ruined—over a matter of poor judgment. One, a air traffic controller and the other, his boss, have been suspended as a result of a parent trying to show his son what he does for a living. The controller, whose name has not been released, took his son to work on a day when the kids were out of school. While there, he let the boy speak to the planes on the ground over the radio. While this may not be the best choice he could have made, it has created quite the firestorm in the media and in the public consciousness. And that is where the problem really begins: in the court of Public Opinion.

The boy at no time was directing flight operations or interacting with aircraft on approach. He only spoke to a few planes on the ground awaiting takeoff, and what he said was fed to him by his father, who no doubt was wearing headphones himself to hear the interchange. The pilots even commented that it was refreshing to see a parent involved with his son and were not bothered at all by the boy’s interaction.

The entire interaction was recorded and posted on the internet—apparently a common practice. The news media picked up the interchange and reported on it, and that is where the story grew legs. It eventually caught the attention of the FAA, who has imposed the suspensions pending a formal investigation and policy review.

Now, the fact that dad did violate FAA policy is not the question. That he should not have let the boy issue directives is not the issue. What the main problem here points to is the public’s interpretations of any given issue. People have opinions. The old saying goes that opinions are like buttholes; everyone has one. More than that, however, is that everyone thinks that their opinion is most important, even if they don’t have all the relevant facts of a matter.

One reporter relating the story emphasized that hundreds of lives were at stake. Well, that is not exactly true. Yes, there was at least one plane with passengers, but what the child said was not operationally significant and no one was at risk, yet the news portrays the incident as though the plane could have crashed because of the incident. This fuels the public’s concerns and inflames the negative opinion.

Trials by jury are courts wherein the public makes a determination of guilt or innocence of a given party. These juries are selected through a rigorous process called Voir Dire where the attorneys and officers of the court select the jury members before trial, and at trial control the presentation of relevant data and how to apply these facts to the case at hand. This process, while not perfect, maintains some semblance of order and fairness.

The Court Of Public Opinion does not have these controls. People gather and shoot off their mouths about any number of issues based solely on half-truths and rumor and personal ideology. They make no attempt to understand the entire issue and in many occasions don’t even want to hear anything that detracts from their preformed conclusions. In this court, the ATC is guilty of not only stupidity, but gross negligence since hundreds of people could have died.

According to one article by the Associated Press, the FAA does allow guests within the air traffic control tower to observe. There might even be language in the policy that could allow what the controller did. I don’t know. I don’t have access to those regulations. Either way, the FAA has acted and will act to ensure this does not happen again. But in reality, what the boy did was harmless and under rigidly controlled circumstances. What was the harm?

According to the court of public opinion, lives were in danger. That is harm enough for them. But then again, in this court, Don Imus is racist, Harry Reid is racist, Tim Tebow’s mom is a radical who should be silenced, and the President is either God’s gift to mankind or the devil incarnate (depending on who you ask). The joy of it all is that it doesn’t really matter. This court over-rules itself by the minute and what is evil one day is celebrated the next.

People are fickle and that will never change. The media flows through this court and sometimes dictates the rulings or is dictated by the rulings. None of it matters. All I can say is that the dad in question should be lauded for being an involved parent and showing his son what he does. In olden times, this was the norm. Sons apprenticed with their fathers to learn the trade to take over the family business. Work ethics were stronger back then as was quality. Maybe we should all take our kids to work.

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