Radio Rant To Controller Prompts Fine, Suspension


A private helicopter pilot in the U.K. has been penalized about $2,000 and has had his pilot license suspended since July for an on-air rant berating an air traffic controller. Businessman Joel Tobias dressed down controller Andrea Tolley for what he alleged was an unreasonable delay in answering his initial radio call to her at Blackpool Airport on July 31, 2019. “Your job is actually to take calls from aircraft and not have two-way chats with other aircraft asking how their day’s going and how fun it is,” a transcript of the exchange presented in court read. “I’m in a helicopter here that costs £550 an hour and I’ve waited 10 minutes for you to answer the call—it’s absolutely appalling.” He pleaded guilty to an offense under the Air Navigation Order 2016 and was fined about $900 and ordered to pay about $1100 in costs.

Although he threatened to complain to Tolley’s superiors at the time, he didn’t pursue the matter but another pilot who heard the exchange filed a complaint. During the court proceedings, the Civil Aviation Administration prosecutor disputed Tobias’ timeline and noted that Tolley was handling several other aircraft, including a lost pilot, at the time Tobias asked for permission to land at Blackpool. He also questioned the pilot’s airmanship. “He gave Miss Tolley no time to ask him to pass his message as protocol requires,” the prosecutor said. “He did not give his location, altitude, destination or request permission to enter the aerodrome traffic zone. Potentially it caused a serious risk to other air traffic in the area.” His license was suspended when the complaint was filed and the CAA will conduct a regulatory review to determine if it will be reissued.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. I don’t disagree that the pilot was out of order BUT … the penalty seems a bit heavy handed to me.

    Over the years, I’ve had controllers get testy with me and they still make an average of $125K. Some people have bad days … if this pilot had a history of doing this … it’d be different.

  2. Isn’t that an environment with heavy user fees for use of ATC services? Not to excuse this guy’s behavior, but when you’re paying a lot of cash to use ATC you probably have less patience with delayed service.

    • Hey Mike, as a Canadian I also pay big fees for ATC and, like you said, often feel I don’t get my money’s worth but that doesn’t justify reaming out a controller I disagree with. It’s a bit like getting upset with the clerk in a store that is understaffed or at max capacity. The fault (if any) lies with the organization.

  3. The conversation went south for the pilot declaring operating expenses as if his aircraft deserves priority over others. In British terms…….that’s appallingly poor behavior for any pilot. With this episode elevated to license suspension and court costs, is anger management classes the next step to reel in poor airmanship?

    I was in the midst of performing a simulated engine out procedure at a non towered a/p for my PPL when my designated examiner made the call on CTAF. Another pilot in a fixed wing was on long final for landing, declaring something to the effect of “….hurry up already!” Nervous as I was but prepared to initiate engine out from 2k feet over the runway, the examiner got on the radio and said “Student pilot performing engine out procedures, cut the guy a break!?” Dropping out of the air at approximately 60 degrees in Schweizer CB300 to maintain rotor speed, I felt somewhat relieved and performed the procedure about as good as I could. I was made to perform a few more engine out procedures before landing and a decision to turn a student into a licensed pilot. I passed but was asked if I wondered why I was made to perform a few more of the same procedures. I said yes, why? His response was “I wanted to make sure you can do it”

  4. Pilots and air traffic controllers sometimes behave absurdly and in laughable ways. This time, the pilot got arrogantly argumentative and got caught, nailed and postered. Airways will be calm for a while.