Alarming: Quito Airport Air Traffic Control Audio

Alarming: Quito Airport Air Traffic Control Audio

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I’m not sure what exactly is going on here, but this sure is concerning. If you’re not an avgeek then by all means skip this post, but I know many of us find stuff like this to be interesting.

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.

Bottom line

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?

Conversations (38)
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  1. CapStar362 Guest

    if you watch the video, look at the entry portion of the video itself which shows the email Victor got from the person who is raising the alarm.

    Ecuadorian Authorities are trying to bury this incident without bringing in an investigation, most likely because AOPA, ICAO and whoever else would bring down a hammer onto Quito's Ops for this incident. while its 100% Speculation, the guy is apparently a pilot for a Ecuadorian Airline...

    if you watch the video, look at the entry portion of the video itself which shows the email Victor got from the person who is raising the alarm.

    Ecuadorian Authorities are trying to bury this incident without bringing in an investigation, most likely because AOPA, ICAO and whoever else would bring down a hammer onto Quito's Ops for this incident. while its 100% Speculation, the guy is apparently a pilot for a Ecuadorian Airline and I would assume he has some reliable information that they are trying to bury this incident.

    That shows corruption and total lack of oversight that ICAO requires for international airports.

  2. Marcelo Guest

    You are going to have to excuse me but the atc is not right. Whatever is wrong with him, his supervisor must have recognized this at the moment when he started his shift. It os worry-some that the Ecuadorian authorities are not saying anything about it and worst trying to cover it up.

    1. CapStar362 Guest

      look at the email at the start of the video, a pilot is raising the alarm when it appears to him that they are trying to bury the incident.

  3. Sam Guest

    I am from Ecuador, I know the dialect and I can crearly tell this guy is drunk, I know how people talk when they’re in my country. Sad.

  4. fernando Guest

    that tower controller is stone out his head and his English is just plain ugly I don't know how the pilots from America and Delta airlines could even understand anything wow

  5. Shira Guest

    Kudos to the Aircrew trying to understand the tower. Not a busy time. That could have been a hazardous situation if that was JFK or ATL! He was either having a stroke or drunk!

  6. PVBuckles Guest

    I've lived in Quito for 9 years now. From all my interactions in this region, this fellow sounds exhausted. With current Covid restrictions some people are pulling ungodly shifts - one relative in security pulls 72 hours straight because co-workers are Covid positive. Drunk people typically default to their native tongue, while this fellow holds to his English, as challenging as that may be.

  7. AA pilot Guest

    It's not unusual. I fly these routes. English is some of these guy's/girl's second language and they really struggle. At the beginning of the tape he speaks spanish fine. A little mumbled but that's how these guys sound at 3am

    1. D3kingg Guest

      @AA Pilot

      This guy wouldn’t last a day in NYC but it didn’t seem like Quito airspace was that busy .

    2. fernando Guest

      Agree 100%,I'm an Ecuadorian I can't not understand how this guy is allow to be an air traffic controller with his broken english just unbelievable

  8. Oswaldo Jarrín. Guest

    That sounds like a very drunk person. This matter should be probe.

  9. Gabriela Vivanco Guest

    @Ben Schlampig: Hello, in order to push authorities to investigate, would you please send me an email/message with the date in which this occurred?
    Thank you!

  10. Antonio Guest

    Im just checking OMAAT website stats, and It seems average pages per visit is 1.3 and average visit duration is 58 secs. I wonder if recent trips with July 21 date might be the reason for this outstanding KPI.
    It has to be said however that all the weirdos actions in terms of fights, flight etiquettes and nowhere trips is perfectly compiled...

  11. JFran Guest

    Que hablen español todos coño

  12. Ron Langevin Guest

    From an retired tower controller, USA. Without seeing out the window what is actually going on, I can seemingly hear a whole bunch of questioinable orders being given but also Flt 632, and others being ignored. Sometimes his instructions seem to be OK, and sometimes questionable, never gives traffic to incoming aircraft, and seems to be issuing clearances to land way to early considering he is talking to several aircraft at a time in addition...

    From an retired tower controller, USA. Without seeing out the window what is actually going on, I can seemingly hear a whole bunch of questioinable orders being given but also Flt 632, and others being ignored. Sometimes his instructions seem to be OK, and sometimes questionable, never gives traffic to incoming aircraft, and seems to be issuing clearances to land way to early considering he is talking to several aircraft at a time in addition to sounding impared to some extent. Not what I would like to hear if on approach to landing!!!

  13. Neurologist Guest

    Stroke to the cerebellum or medication side effect. A professional drinker would not have that much slurry speech and a novel drinker would not be able to keep up the work for 2 hours at that level.

  14. JoePro Guest

    So for those of you who are confused about the LAS incident.... plenty of speculation it was a stroke. No confirmation.
    Plenty of actual confirmation she was drunk.

    No official report because she quit.

  15. N1120A Guest

    The language thing:

    1) There are 6 official ICAO languages (English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Chinese), 4 of which have published standard phraseology (the first 4). Technically, ATC and pilots may speak any of the 4 published languages, subject to local rules.

    2) English is the default and all airmen, which includes controllers, must speak English to a certain level to operate outside the national airspace of their certificate.

    3) Local ATC and pilots...

    The language thing:

    1) There are 6 official ICAO languages (English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Chinese), 4 of which have published standard phraseology (the first 4). Technically, ATC and pilots may speak any of the 4 published languages, subject to local rules.

    2) English is the default and all airmen, which includes controllers, must speak English to a certain level to operate outside the national airspace of their certificate.

    3) Local ATC and pilots may speak their local language, but must switch to English if required.

    ATC speaking Spanish at UIO with Spanish speaking crews is not only legal, but internationally recognized. ATC must be able to also speak English. He clearly does.

    Get over it.

    Finally, I have my doubts the guy was drunk. By the way he deteriorated, I suspect either it was medication or illness. There are some similarities to LAS, where the controller had a stroke.

  16. D3kingg Guest

    It’s all good. Just takeoff and land on runway 36. I don’t see the issue here. The United pilots should be required to speak Spanish if flying to a Latin American country.

    1. Jorge Paez Guest

      I thought English was the default language for air operations all over the world?

    2. Chris Guest

      Its established internationally that English is the international language of aviation. ICAO which is the international regulatory body for aviation has long required that English is required to communicate in aviation. While its common in other parts of the world for local pilots and ATC to communicate in other languages, its best practice to stick to only English.

    3. Icarus Guest

      English is the default language globally.

    4. Samo Guest

      Right, so pilots in Europe should learn 20+ languages to be able to operate within the continent? What a nonsense.

      Local languages can be used when both parties speak them, but radar service must be always provided in English when needed.

  17. Joe Guest

    The only ones who are going to be able to determine what happened with the controller are the investigators.

    I'm more interested in what people here think about the pilots realizing something is off and still following his instructions?

    What would have happened if he had passed out (from drinking, a stroke, a zombie attack, whatever). If this is a skeleton crew (of 1? How is that even possible?) what happens immediately after take off, or on approach?

  18. Stuart Guest

    Especially alarming given the complex approach and departure at Quito.

  19. Tom Guest

    Lucky, you should talk to @nlarenas Nicolas Larenas. He is one of the main reporters on Ecuadorian aviation out there, and may have some insights.

  20. garou Guest

    surprising none of the crew got into action and asked on another frequency to verify what’s going on with this controller. Maybe time gaps between the affected flights were too big, so every crew just thought to get in or out as quickly as possible without any further hassle. Nevertheless - sounded pretty frightening.

    1. Caro Guest

      His speech in Spanish sounded very drunk and actually worse than in English, where he had problems with pronunciation. Maybe he was drinking during the long night. Also his accent did not sound like someone who was particularly technical and educated. Almost like a temporary fill in. Did employee go to the bathroom and his drinking partner filled in and just read data? I live in Ecuador and know Andean speech and drinking culture quite well.

  21. Simon Guest

    Sending an aircraft to a different frequency although the same person's working it is common and perfectly normal. Some frequencies run over more powerful transmitter/receiver especially when speaking of a TWR frequency in comparison to Delivery/Ground.

    Furthermore I don't think he was drunk. To be honest, this accusation is highly disgusting. Without knowing it I'd suspect a medical condition behind that just like a few years ago a controller at LAS suffered a stroke while...

    Sending an aircraft to a different frequency although the same person's working it is common and perfectly normal. Some frequencies run over more powerful transmitter/receiver especially when speaking of a TWR frequency in comparison to Delivery/Ground.

    Furthermore I don't think he was drunk. To be honest, this accusation is highly disgusting. Without knowing it I'd suspect a medical condition behind that just like a few years ago a controller at LAS suffered a stroke while working.

    1. JoePro Guest

      No, she didn't suffer a stroke.
      Also, Ben didn't accuse him of being drunk, but he did suggest it.
      Reasonable suspicion.

      Said as a U.S based ATCS

    2. Simon Guest

      I wasn't referring to him accusing the controller of being drunk but rather to the general response on this case.

      Just researched again about the LAS case (last article I read was a while ago) and although there seems to be no official final report (kinda suspicious if you ask me) it does infact appear, as if she didn't suffer a stroke - which is unbelievable to be honest.

    3. JoePro Guest

      No official report because she quit.

    4. Bob Guest

      What he suggested we all thought of it. No need to pretend you are highly evolved and want to give probably a drunk the benefit of the doubt.

  22. dander Guest

    Could be low blood sugar. I can get it and get confused, but I don't work atc either

  23. Greg Guest

    That's so bad that I wonder if he had a medical crisis. It reminds me of the Las Vegas controller who had a stroke on duty:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jv1kmuFOhWk&ab_channel=VASAviation-

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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Icarus Guest

English is the default language globally.

2
Samo Guest

Right, so pilots in Europe should learn 20+ languages to be able to operate within the continent? What a nonsense. Local languages can be used when both parties speak them, but radar service must be always provided in English when needed.

1
CapStar362 Guest

if you watch the video, look at the entry portion of the video itself which shows the email Victor got from the person who is raising the alarm. Ecuadorian Authorities are trying to bury this incident without bringing in an investigation, most likely because AOPA, ICAO and whoever else would bring down a hammer onto Quito's Ops for this incident. while its 100% Speculation, the guy is apparently a pilot for a Ecuadorian Airline and I would assume he has some reliable information that they are trying to bury this incident. That shows corruption and total lack of oversight that ICAO requires for international airports.

1
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