JFK TWR & Kuwaiti 117, learned carelessness not acceptable to the controller


The ATC voice recording between the JFK controller and the crew of Kuwaiti 117 is a prime example of learned carelessness or in simple terms bad habit. Some people might say “It’s not a big deal to skip a few words here and there, doesn’t change the meaning”. It might not but on that critical day when there is some confusion, it doesn’t help.

Carelessness refers to the lack of awareness during a behaviour that can result in unintentional consequences. The consequences way of carelessness are often undesirable and tend to be mistakes.

The theory of Learned Carelessness offers an explanation why humans take unnecessary risks by omitting safety precautions against better judgment. It is assumed carelessness is learned by means of operant conditioning

Humans are “cognitive misers” (Wickens & Hollands, 2000) which means that they follow the path of the least cognitive resistance. A reduction in effort is positively reinforcing and therefore, increases the likelihood of future shortcuts in the absence of negative consequences. 

The underlying motivation is assumed to maximize pleasure while minimizing discomfort. Once learned carelessness has developed it will distort a person’s perception, selection, and interpretation of subsequent information in favour of the monopoly hypothesis. This top-down information processing impairs motivation and capability to detect incidents. The result is unreasonably risky behaviour. 

JRF Controllers vs Kuwaiti 117

mindFly analysis

It is mandatory to report the call sign with every transmission in order to be unambiguous and convey the correct meaning of the communication transmission. The requirement to maintain visual separation is imperative and the ATC needs to be 100% sure that the two aircraft that are being separated are the ones with whom the communication is taking place.

Kuwaiti 117, did not report the call sign during the critical phase where the ATC wanted to be 100% sure that there is visual separation between the aircraft. The ATC could have reminded or confirmed with Kuwaiti 117 if the transmission originated from them or some other aircraft. Listening to the workload of the ATC controller, it was not in the best interest to remind every aircraft to follow procedures to ensure safety.

Kuwaiti 117 on the other hand did not get the message loud and clear and as a matter of habit, after JFK ordered Kuwaiti 117 to go around, the crew continued to make the same error. Therefore it is a training issue and also a safety audit issue which has not detected this and flagged the issue. Being relaxed is OK but the bare minimum required is to comply with a set of rules.

About Capt. Amit Singh

I think therefore I am https://www.linkedin.com/in/traintofly/ Airlines Operations and Safety balance expert. A former head of operations/training and safety of successful LCC's in India. An experienced member of the startup teams of these airlines has hands-on experience in establishing airlines systems and processes.

1 Response

  1. Birender Yadav

    Aircraft has been cleared to land after he calls on LLZ 4 R. It indicates that adequate separation exists and RW is clear. Now on finals at may be 4-6 miles, critical phase, he is apprised of closing in to the preceding aircraft which is heavy. He is also being asked to assume visual clearance responsibility. Not a very comfortable situation for any crew. He is responding but his mind is also busy analyzing the situation. He can do very little adjustments at this distance. Wake, reducing speed, closing in, and assuming responsibility for visual separation are some of the factors confronting the crew. I think it is possible to miss out certain part of technicality in such situations. The situation we have landed up here (could be any body’s fault) is indeed tricky and a go around from the perspective of crew and controller was (IMHO) required.
    However controllers insistence that it was made due pilot not doing copy book style read back is NOT CORRECT for many reasons. First is that controller was aware without any doubt that the read backs were coming from K117. He should realize it is a tight situation in air and crew has given enough confirmations that they are alive to the situation. Twice the crew has confirmed (of course w.o call sign) and to nail it his third transmission is loud and exasperated telling him that he has the ac in visual contact (here again w.o call sign but the conversation is now become one to one like in normal communication).
    To ask for go around just to be technically correct is not being professional as also his donning hat of a school teacher. He could have raised the report, but to make an ac to go around in congested airspace should have been avoided. The pilot definitely was not lazy and neither was he careless.

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