Audio: Pilot Calls ATC Incompetent, ATC Calls Pilot An Idiot

Filed Under: Videos

VASAviation has the audio of a heated exchange between a pilot and an air traffic controller in Argentina.

So, what happened? An Avianca Argentina ATR-72 and Austral Embraer 190 passed just a few hundred feet apart when flying in the airspace over Buenos Aires.

Now, I’d note that often there’s unnecessary media hype about planes not having proper separation, because planes may appear close. The reality is that in a vast majority of situations this is a non-issue, because the planes are separated by at least 1,000 feet, and that’s a normal procedure.

However, in this instance it sure seems like maybe things weren’t going as planned, or at least that’s what the pilot seems to think.

So while the communications are in Spanish, here’s what goes down after the two planes pass close to one another (roughly translated):

Pilot: “We had around 500 feet to 300 feet at some points of separation with that traffic that passed right above us from right to left.”
Air traffic controller: “Yes, that’s correct, sir. You are absolutely right. If you need to file a report, do it. It’s due to the congestion that we have in this sector and the job at the moment.”
Pilot: “Truth is that you are all incompetent. That’s the problem.”
Air traffic controller: “Yeah? Come tell me in person, huh? Please.”
Air traffic controller: “Idiot.”

Here’s a video with the audio and the visuals of how close the planes were:

As an aviation geek and fan of Jerry Springer, who knew that I could basically enjoy both at once?!

In all honesty, we don’t know if the air traffic controller was doing anything wrong here, though it sure seems like both the pilot and controller should have better maintained their composure.

(Featured image courtesy of Carlos Daniel Dobelli)

  1. Pilot:”incompetent ATC!!!”
    ATC:”what an idiot pilot!”
    Random guy in the bathtub with handheld radio:”two morons lol”
    just another day in Buenos Aires airspace
    (there actually was a guy saying random stuffs on frequency a while back in BA, I want him back to commentate the airspace after he is released)

  2. Why was this in Spanish? I thought all ATC was supposed to be conducted in English? Seems like there would be a lot of international traffic around Buenos Aires.

  3. Clearly it’s a loss of separation, and both an unprofessional pilot and air traffic controller.

  4. Steve is right – the pilot crassly failed to interpret the obvious implication from the ATC controller (who was trying to be indirect enough not to prejudice his ongoing employment). In linguistics this phenomenon is known as pragmatic failure. What’s odd is that if both are native speakers of Spanish this shouldn’t happen very often – it’s much more common when people don’t share the same language.

  5. Loss of separation, if it’s IFR. ATC at fault and should never blame the airspace design or sector loading. They can hold traffic outside their sector if it’s too busy or not hold a license if they can’t handle it. If I were the pilot I would be pissed. Big time.

  6. This is ATC’s complete fault I don’t know how someone could see it any other way. The workload may be high, but that is neither the time nor place to complain and it is their job to maintain separation.

  7. To everyone thinking that ATC were right in saying to file report etc.. a busy sector with loss of separation is not the way to let the bosses know that it is too busy. It is shear incompetence. What if the planes had collided. Stupid risk to take

  8. Separation minimum standards exists for the safety for all pilots,we don’t make policy here,elected officials do,we are the instruments of that policy and although flying is not inherently dangerous it can be unforgiving,we are the spear of the tip.
    Responsible Aviation is about safety at the end of the flight,as PIC,there are not enough “apologies” that will reverse the irresponsible circumstances caused by oneself or by someone else’s negligence,someone making decisions on your behalf, flaps up!

  9. I live in Buenos Aires. My daughter just flew back from Paraguay on Monday. This gives me the willies. It’s obviously ATC’s fault, not the pilot and I’d be as pissed as he calmly seemed to be. Pure incompetence and doesn’t seem so out-of-place here unfortunately…

  10. Dan,

    It depends on the country if they speak English or not to pilots who speak the language of that country. For example, China will have Mandarin spoken between ATC and Chinese pilots. Same with most Latin America countries, Russia, and I believe France too.

    But then there are countries where it is only English. Most of Europe is this way, as are Japan and South Korea.

  11. ATC is responsible for separation and 300ft is incredibly close. People could have died and incompetent is a very polite word to use when that much is at stake. He is also emotional and unprofessional. He should be investigated and license revoked

  12. What happened shouldn’t be considered just joke. The fellow ATC just deserve revoke permits.

  13. ATC’s fault. Although that doesn’t give the pilot the right to insult. But this was super close to a huge tragedy.

    Argentina’s air-space is not the safest, but we’ve been lucky so far. I recommend watching two films: Fuerza Aerea Sociedad Anonima and Whiskey Romeo Zulu, both about aviation incidents that occurred in Argentina 20 years ago.

  14. I totally get the pilot’s reaction. I’d be pretty upset too if ATC had almost vectored me into another plane and almost killed everyone on board. Clearly ATC’s fault and her “this is a tough job” viewpoint is not what is needed. It isn’t a video game, there are actual people on the planes. She is the one who should be fired.

  15. U need tertiary education before you can entering ATC college for multiple courses as preparation to become ATC

    and u need a high school certificate, a lot of money and a sane mind at least to join a flying school and become a licensed pilot

    Idiot indeed

  16. As a former controller I often wanted to add a comment about the lack of proficiency that a pilot or two displayed. And I often did, but not on the air.
    As for who is at fault (we love to place blame don’t we) there isn’t enough information here to make a determination. When things are reported by the media, especially something of a technical nature, they don’t always get all of the facts or report everything. That is why they have investigation boards.

  17. @Rui N.

    Nope, there’s a list of official ICAO languages. ATC can be conducted in aviation english or in one of those languages.

  18. Canada is bilingual french/English and all conversations between aircraft & ATC are conducted in aviation English except for a certain unique sector in the province of Quebec where French is the language of aviation. A unique society…..if there ever was one. LOL

  19. @Rod – In Canada, English is standard, but French is acceptable if both the controller and pilot speak French.

    ATC communications can be conducted in any of the UN official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. However, pilots and controllers must all be English proficient and prepared to speak English. Local aviation authorities can restrict communications to English, but can’t restrict to any of the other languages.

    On the topic – that was not acceptable separation. It wasn’t particularly appropriate for the pilot to give a lecture on frequency either – but he would have been perfectly in his rights to get a phone number to complain about the separation from the ground. There’s another VASA video where a Lufthansa pilot does just this after a bunch of vectoring on low fuel at BOS.

  20. Very Retired

    We do have enough info. The planes wrre 300 feet apart. That is an ATC failure UNLESS one of the pilots disobeyed ATC isntructions, and there is no evidence that they did

  21. Separation depends on class of airspace and flight rules (IFR or VFR). It’s possible that the other aircraft was VFR and had the Avianca in sight, and was maintaining their own visual separation. There aren’t enough details of the incident to determine if it was ATC’s fault.

  22. It is absolutely unreasonable risk of collision! The way of Captain’s answer in such manner looks caused not a first time of situation! Unfortunately, same situation of the traffic behavior very often in marine industry as well which I had experienced many time in some ports as a Marine Master. It is life of many people!

    The pilot who said “We had around 500 feet to 300 feet at some points of separation with that traffic that passed right above us from right to left.” it’s not the same as the pilot who said “Truth is that you are all incompetent. That’s the problem.”
    It’s unclear whether they were the two pilots of the same aircraft or not.

  24. ATC would have been massacred had there been a mid-air collision. You can’t whitewash the fatalities of those in the air and the possible ones on the ground. I simply cannot believe the hubris displayed here.

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