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Quito air traffic controller is out of it
VASAviation has air traffic control audio from a recent night at Quito Airport (UIO), where the controller’s communications were rather alarming:
- An airline pilot reported this situation, claiming that aviation authorities in Ecuador are trying to cover up this incident, rather than investigate it (I can’t speak to that one way or another)
- The roughly nine minute video contains communications that happened over the course of two hours, but the periods without communication are removed; this was late at night, around midnight
- The controller in question is responsible for ground, tower, and approach (it seems they run a skeleton operation that time of night, in spite of the fact that there are several flights to & from the United States around that time)
- If you don’t speak Spanish, I’d recommend starting the video around 80 seconds in, which is the point at which communication is mostly with pilots of American, Delta, and United; the controller’s communication gets progressively worse, and if you just want to hear the worst of it, check out the final two minutes
You can watch the video for yourself below, which contains the audio, along with captions (which you really need).
What’s going on with the air traffic controller?
Those who are used to listening to air traffic control audio will probably easily recognize how “off” the controller’s communication seems. It goes without saying that there are sometimes language barriers, but this goes way beyond that.
For those who don’t usually listen to air traffic control audio, here are just a few of the things that are unusual about this communication:
- The controller is mumbling and slurring his words, and repeatedly has to correct his instructions (which happens in moderation, but not to this level)
- When a Delta pilot requests clearance to taxi, the controller seems to give takeoff clearance multiple times instead, which isn’t what was being asked for
- The controller repeatedly tells pilots to contact another frequency (118.35), when in reality that’s the frequency he’s on
- A United pilot repeatedly has to request a squawk and altitude; at this point the controller gives him a takeoff clearance for the runway, rather than a flight clearance
Something seems off, but it’s anyone’s guess what. It’s suggested that the controller may have been drunk — I don’t think we have enough info to draw that conclusion. It’s also possible he was just incredibly exhausted, was having some sort of health condition that caused him to act out of character, was on medication that was having side effects, etc.
Regardless, I don’t think any airline pilot would feel terribly confident relying on someone like this for instructions.
Air traffic control audio from an overnight shift at Quito Airport has been posted online, and the communications are surprising. Something obviously isn’t quite right with the controller, so hopefully this incident gets investigated properly.
What do you make of this ATC audio from Ecuador?