ANALYSIS: An ATC Joke-Gone-Bad at Atlanta [KATL]

Nobody was hurt, but it made the news. A controller working the arrivals landing on Runway 27L at Atlanta [KATL] made a flippant comment on frequency, telling a flight on a five mile final to ‘Go Around’, then followed up just two seconds later saying, “I’m kidding,” and gave a clear response to the pilot’s earlier request.

It turns out the Boeing 777 flightcrew played the joke against the controller. They ignored the controllers subsequent transmissions and executed the ‘Go Around’. Here’s the transcript:

15:30 DAL630: “Tower, Delta 6-30 heavy, DEPOT 2-7 left”
15:45 TWR: “Delta 6-30 heavy, Atlanta Tower, wind 2-3-0 at 1-4, runway 2-7 left, cleared to land”
15:50 DAL630: “Cleared to land, 2-7 left. Uhh, we do not have a gate yet so you might want to figure out some place for us to park while we sort it out”
15:56 TWR: “Delta 6-30 go around”
15:59 TWR: “I’m kidding. Delta 6-30, after your landing I’ve got no one behind you. Expect to exit right the second high-speed we’ll… we’ll hide you out somewhere down by Papa”
16:10 TWR: “Delta 6-30 you copy?”
16:11 DAL630: “Sorry, say again ?”
16:13 TWR: “Expect exit the second high-speed November Two… Delta 6-30 you’re cleared to land runway 2-7 left”
16:19 DAL630: “You sent us around. Delta 6-30’s on the go”

20140611.. KATL, scrap showing FAF and descent profile on RNAV RY27L APCHThe audio can be heard at this link at LiveATC.net. Times in the above transcript reflect the timestamp on the LiveATC audio.

The table at the bottom shows the flight data, from FlightAware. In the altitude column, the flight is shown stopping its descent at around 2,400′ altitude (which puts it roughly 1,400′ above the ground, since the runway is at roughly 1,000′ altitude MSL). The pilot had just reported a fix called DEPOT. According to the published RNAV Runwy 27L approach (see the scrap above, showing the profile for the final 9-miles of the approach), pilots will ideally cross DEPOT at 2,800′.20140611... KATL, DAL630 go around map view So, the data at FlightAware appears to be accurate, and the flight was roughly 1,400′ AGL and five miles from the runway when the Go Around was initiated. The table below also shows that the extra turn in the pattern (with a climb to 4,000′) cost approximately seven minutes total flying time.

Was there a hazard here? No, not at all. Could this aircraft have easily made a safe landing from that height and distance. Absolutely, and most pilots would have. Was it a bad joke? Yeah, a little, but not that far from the banter controllers and pilots use all the time. And did some in the media blow this out of proportion. Yes, WAY out of proportion.

UTC time LAT LONG Heading Compass Knots MPH ALT ClimbRate
08:37PM 33.8944 -83.9136 193° South 269 310 10,400 -600
08:38PM 33.8256 -83.9364 195° South 264 304 9,800 -600
08:39PM 33.7567 -83.9589 195° South 264 304 9,200 -900
08:40PM 33.6878 -83.9814 195° South 258 297 8,000 -1,260
08:42PM 33.6333 -84.1333 247° West 228 262 5,100 -1,080
08:43PM 33.6333 -84.2000 270° West 204 235 4,400 -900
08:44PM 33.6333 -84.2667 270° West 191 220 3,300 -1,020
08:45PM 33.6333 -84.3333 270° West 187 215 2,400 60
08:46PM 33.6333 -84.3833 270° West 173 199 3,500 3,420
08:47PM 33.6167 -84.4333 248° West 217 250 9,300 180
08:48PM 33.5667 -84.4167 164° South 222 255 3,900 -2,820
08:49PM 33.5500 -84.3500 107° East 254 292 4,000 -120
08:50PM 33.5500 -84.2667 90° East 242 278 3,700 -480
08:51PM 33.6000 -84.2500 16° North 215 247 3,100 -480
08:52PM 33.6167 -84.3000 292° West 182 209 2,800 -600
08:53PM 33.6167 -84.3500 270° West 159 183 2,000 -780
08:54PM 33.6167 -84.4000 270° West 140 161 1,300 -720