I found a clip on YouTube (via an article on Jalopnik) of an Aer Lingus pilot departing from JFK. Due to a weather cell showing up on his instruments, he can not make the left ATC asks him to make.

ATC advises him that the weather is not as bad as the pilot makes it out to be.

ATC: "Shamrock 104 heavy, it's light. I have 6 categories of weather here, it's the lightest category. I've had no adverse ride reports south of the airport by 10 miles."

He then is put in a holding pattern (while departing) until the situation is resolved. He is then told that the last 6 craft departing had no problem following that heading.

ATC: "Shamrock 104 heavy, you're gonna go the way the last 6 GREKIs went while you did this overhead Kennedy."

Was ATC overstepping its boundaries advising a pilot to ignore a weather warning?


3 Answers 3


The controller didn't overstep his boundaries, and he didn't tell the pilot to ignore a weather warning.

Shamrock demanded something that's extreme for the NYC airspace: runway heading for 15 miles. Usually asking for right or left deviation is sufficient, and that appears to be what the previous Delta departure did.

Once Shamrock declined an easterly heading, the controller had no choice but to vector them in a temporary hold. The controller was frustrated because the previous departures had been accepting turns to the east and his radar didn't show signs of significant precipitation. He also astutely pointed out that this weather was 5 miles from the runway departure end. Aer Lingus should have been able to paint that on their radar or see it with their eyes before they departed. Their clearance was to the GREKI fix so they knew they'd be heading that way after departure. That doesn't mean Shamrock was wrong. After all, they are flying in actual, and the controller is sitting in a room at zero knots, but in the incredibly dense NYC airspace, it can create an emergency if you have to deviate that much.

The controller was harsh and made his frustration evident in the way he chose his words. The pilot stroked his ego by saying his boss would call the controller's boss.

Once you strip away the emotions, the pilot and controller did their jobs. The pilot kept his airplane clear of weather that he determined to be dangerous. The controller did the only thing he could to keep the Aer Lingus flight out of that weather and away from conflicting traffic.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ P1 is no stranger to changeable weather & likely considered the clearance reasonable before takeoff.The controller should not suggest that P1 override judgement because 'someone else did it'. Conditions change rapidly. Both the controller & P1 should have kept the unnecessary conversation until later. $\endgroup$
    – copper.hat
    Jul 28, 2018 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ @copper.hat What is P1? $\endgroup$
    – ryan1618
    Jul 31, 2018 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ It means pilot in command. Sometimes appears in log books to designate role in flight. Incidentally, the pilot did not demand 15 miles, it was a response to ATC's question. $\endgroup$
    – copper.hat
    Jul 31, 2018 at 15:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ He says he needs 15 miles of runway heading at 0:36. youtu.be/w1r3XZQc4Zo?t=36 $\endgroup$
    – ryan1618
    Jul 31, 2018 at 18:20

The controller didn't overstep their boundary but used poor judgment in using "another aircraft just did it..." as justification. That is almost always the last words of a crash as unforeseen weather tempted an aircrew to sneak in one more landing or takeoff. Fast cold fronts travel 1/2mi a minute and what the previous aircraft encountered has nothing to do with what is about to happen.

In the Pan Am Flight 759 with 153 people killed during takoff, The weather chart reported. "No fronts or low pressure areas were within 100 nm of the airport, and there were no severe weather warnings for the time and area of the accident"

The lemming principle of the guy in front of me seems to have lived, why not do it too - costs many lives. Good pilots don't wait until things are proven bad before they don't do them, they wisely refuse if it may be bad.

The pilot only had seconds after takeoff to assess the request. His assessment may or may not have been correct but he did not have the luxury of sitting at a desk for the last hour watching it evolve.

The previous Delta departure also saw something they did not like. The situation easily fits what may have appeared like (or even been) a micro burst forming. Something that could be new, it would not have effected the previous aircraft, and may not have been apparent to the controller, but would legitimately put safety in jeopardy.


PIC is the ultimate authority and can either accept or reject ATC instructions if unable to comply. ATC was not wrong in that their job is traffic separation but they also pass on pilot reports to other aircraft operating in the area, so I can understand what they were trying to relay to the crew. "However", with statement #1 above in mind, I would not let ATC vector me into a cell, having personally experienced a CB from the inside due to the under-whelming performance of a very old monochrome green weather radar unit and a captain who believed far too much in the radar's capabilities. The pilot in the Aer Lingus example can try for a wider block of airspace and altitude to maneuver, but pretty unlikely near JFK (but you can still ask).


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