The tower with a soul…19.

On 14/06/2010, in The tower with a soul, by lajos

In place of an epilogue…

In writing this irregular story of our tower, I have now arrived to the present day. Writing the articles was an enriching experience and I hope those who have read my subjective account of our life will have enjoyed it and were not bored to tears. Of all the details perhaps it is the sphere that is the most interesting, the way I experienced those 27 years from the first excited steps to the rather sad present day finale. We loved to come to the airport and the tower to work, we thought of the place as our second home. By now this enthusiasm has completely evaporated and looking around me, I can see that this is true not only for an old, nostalgic tower controller like me. The young generation will never experience the freedom we enjoyed moving around the airport. Strangely, we were free under the previous regime and are now simple employees (slaves if you like) completely at the mercy of bureaucracy gone wild.

In any case, the first half of the year 2010 has produced two unusual events. It started in January, when winter finally became real winter again. We had snowfall and cold that had not been seen in the Carpathian Basin in years. Of course we have the appropriate story for this also from the archives of past years. Back then the operators of the airport boasted that no amount of snow could ever close down the airport. They could always keep at least one runway operational, they always had sufficient capacity to do that. Of course keeping the airport open was only one side of the coin, most aircraft could not depart on time anyway since passengers could not make it to the airport because of the snow on the access road!

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The tower with a soul… 18.

On 10/06/2010, in The tower with a soul, by lajos

Approaching the present day…

What a strange folk we are, we Hungarians! We complain when we have to work with an obsolete system and when it is replaced with something new, we complain that we are forced to learn new tricks when we had actually grown used to the old ones. This was the situation with the introduction of the MATIAS system that followed Eurocat2000 and whose introduction was anything but smooth. As I heard from “inside”, the new system was simply too complicated for many an experienced colleague and they were actually quite happy to profit from the announced cut in personnel. They retired and my generation had a chance to follow them up in the Supervisor positions. Their place was in turn filled with new hires and those youngsters showed in short order that controlling the terminal area was not such a difficult task after all.

All of a sudden traffic became much more fluid and they turned aircraft on final with a flair never before seen. This was a revelation for us in the tower. Wow, it can be done like this also! We saw the change clearly since watching traffic being handled by the old guard we often shook our heads in amazement, especially when the odd aircraft flew all the way down to the town of Kecskemet for a bit of sightseeing as a result of being cleared for descent and turn to base leg far too late…

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The tower with a soul… 17.

On 07/06/2010, in The tower with a soul, by lajos

We could have done it differently…

MP, my one time friend was appointed as the first director of Hungarocontrol, receiving his letter of appointment from the State Secretary for Transport (who has in the meantime moved to social work). I said one time friend because MP has also done his training in Riga and because, while he was still in the tower, we used to haunt the local pubs for a bit of professional chatting together, him, myself and two other colleagues who were also friends. On such occasions beer was not necessarily the most important element of the gathering, we did “work” in the form talking about the present as it was then and also about the future. Naïve that I was, I often though how nice it would be if the four of us would get a shot at making the world better.

With a bit of common effort we could have kept the “beat generation” at bay and our story would have been about the profession, pure and simple. Unfortunately this was not to be. Instead, some people managed to get ahead by individual, skilful maneuvering, bowing in to the whims of those who have gone before them.

I did not have a stomach for this and got my due punishment as a consequence. When the time came, another guy was picked for training as an approach controller and over the years it also became clear that I would be among the first ones to retire from the tower. The first one among those who had started work here that is.

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The tower with a soul… 16.

On 27/05/2010, in The tower with a soul, by lajos

9/11 and other events of consequence.

11 September 2001 started like any other late summer day. Unlike most people, I do like September. The stifling heat of August is gone, allergens are also mostly gone, and so I breathe easier. So, for me fall is not a reminder of passing but of a new beginning. May be there are others who think the same… Anyway, on that fateful day we were on day-shift. One half of our group was working in the tower from 7 to 9, the other was downstairs having breakfast or just drinking coffee. Switching TV channels, they happened on a channel showing one of the World Trade Center towers in New York belching smoke from a gaping hole in its side. At first they thought they were watching an action movie, except that this was a news channel… Paying more attention they soon realized that this was no action movie, they were watching the real thing! A passenger aircraft flew into the very building I too had visited a few years back. Soon the news arrived also in the tower cab and it gave me the creeps followed by a feeling of emptiness in me. After 9 it was us who watched the news and saw the second plane crashing into the other tower. We were not even surprised… But in each of us the question arose: what now?? Aircraft were still coming and going at Ferihegy airport but the news spread like wildfire and was soon everywhere. With this, a new chapter was opened in the life of the airport. A very dark chapter.

The years since have convinced me that the whole story was not what we at first thought it was, or rather how others tried to make us see it. I have been to the part of the world where they thought the enemy was hiding and getting to know the people there, I started having my doubts. I am afraid that behind this whole horrible event one will find capitalist interests and the push for world hegemony. What better proof do you need than the fact that since the change of leadership in the US, there are far fewer terrorist acts in the world.

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The tower with a soul… 15.

On 21/05/2010, in The tower with a soul, by lajos

Exciting times and more progress

The first decade after the change of the political system in Hungary brought home the realization that Hungarians had a peculiar interpretation of democracy. Instead of making use of opportunities, they immediately started abusing them. They interpreted freedom as being a license to do anything with laws being just a necessary evil which one did not have to observe but rather find cracks to avoid them. Slowly but surely the country slipped into a chaotic state and Ferihegy airport was no different.

Each of the specialized services gained a lot of independence and they started to issue their own rules and procedures, most of which were of course in contradiction with what the others were doing. This was the reason why the tower also had to start negotiations with the other services and to develop common positions and provisions. Obviously, this was far too much work for a single tower boss and so the Aerodrome Control Centre was established under the leadership of SP. This unit incorporated the tower division, the met observer division and the engineering division. The tower division had its own boss in the person of GC. So it was SP and GC who started the negotiations at the end of 2000 with the other services, including the ramp and the airport coordination service.

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The tower with a soul… 14.

On 11/05/2010, in The tower with a soul, by lajos

Finally, real progress

For this chapter I had to solicit a bit of outside help. It looked like I too remembered old memories better than recent ones. Misi Kurucz was kind enough to help me by sketching the most important events in the life of the tower that came to pass during his tenure as tower chief. My heartfelt gratitude goes to him for this.

Misi was appointed tower chief in 1997. He took the room once occupied by professor SGY and set out alone (!) to fight an uphill battle. It was clear even then that getting all the red-tape done would not be an easy task. He could count on the tower shift supervisors but in turn he had to wrestle with his management to force a bit of progress. That his efforts were not in vain is amply demonstrated by the tower cabin as it is now. A lot of things had to be changed and modernized so that we may work in a more up-to-date environment. The renovations brought months of noise and dirt so our life was not easy either. But we survived and so did the aircraft we handled during this difficult period and work in the new cabin was much more pleasant. For example, the consoles were lowered so we had a much better view of the field. We got new, flat panel monitors on which we could follow traffic much better. When the image processing of the ground control radar was digitized, all movements on the airport became easily visible. For example, at the tower control position both runways were shown simultaneously on two separate images.

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The tower with a soul… 13

On 06/05/2010, in The tower with a soul, by lajos

Ten years on the job

The old approach unit...

Ten years on the job! I can say that the first ten years passed quickly but on occasion time seemed to be crawling. Under the previous protocols, someone with a 10 year old license would have already made it to approach control. I read somewhere not so long ago that hires in the “beat generation” in the 60s and 70s became tower controllers almost off the street and approach controllers after a mere five years. This was considered normal back then. Work in the old tower coupled to low traffic did not demand a lot of professional skill. In that system it was logical to have the beginners start in the tower and then get promoted to approach control.

Things changed with the new tower, after all, the area of the airport increased threefold with all that this entailed. Traffic had to be organized across many more taxiways and operating two runways also required more concentration and experience. This was also the reason why it looked like a good idea for the approach controllers to come out to the tower one by one for a stint of a few months. As I mentioned before, this idyllic state of affairs did not last long and the old practice of promoting tower controllers with the most experience to become approach controllers with no reverse flow of any kind continued. Unfortunately the tower complement did not get new hires either so our numbers shrunk while those of the approach unit swelled. This meant of course that after a time we could no longer be “promoted” as the approach control unit had more than enough controllers and with no reverse flow, the average age of the tower controllers started to climb inexorably. We were getting old… This had the consequence that soon controllers in the tower were no longer just bright young titans, we too matured into ripe stingrays with muddy eyes. The relationship between the two units also changed. We, tower people no longer took the abuse lying down that was regularly meted out by the approach controllers and through many confrontations we forced them to accept our unit as their equal.

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The tower with a soul… 12

On 27/04/2010, in The tower with a soul, by lajos

From shared lunches to more restrictions

As the years passed and we approached the tenth anniversary of being on the job, contact with other colleagues of my age group tapered off. Some of them went to other shifts or even other control units and this did not help of course. But on the few occasions we met, talk was no longer about girls or the pub but our respective aptitude in using Pampers properly. In other words, each of us was busy building a family and this left little time for anything else. Folks in the same shift tended to stick together though and common programs only strengthened this unity. For example (and this was back in the times before the political changes took place) we were members of a so called “brigade”. Sometimes we attended the May Day parade together but the common outings and excursions were the most memorable. One of the most successful trips was to Ocseny. Eight of us crammed into two small Polski Fiat’s, no mean feat! An old friend, VK welcomed us at the Ocseny airport where after we took turns to fly in a small plane above the Gemenc forest. After each of us consuming a huge portion of “marhaporkolt” (beef prepared in a not quite goulash mode) and some excellent wine from the Szekszard region, it was even more difficult to get into the little cars… but we made it home safely.

On another occasion we were helping at the building site of one of our colleagues. Back then people built their own houses with help from friends. We got immersed in shifting bricks so much that we clean forgot that the group, in its totality, was due for night shift. In the end we reported two hours late and inserted the plugs of our headsets to the loud and forceful cursing of the day crew finally released to go home.

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A tower with a soul…11

On 12/04/2010, in The tower with a soul, by lajos

Small planes, small airports

The change of political system in Hungary was the main driver behind the presence of an increasing number of small aircraft, more and more people chose this way to visit the country. Since there was only one international airport, Ferihegy in Budapest, every plane had to land there to complete the immigration and customs formalities before being allowed to fly to their actual destination. The Air Traffic and Airport Administration (LRI), recognizing the possibilities, soon established air traffic services at the small Balaton Kiliti airport near Siofok, the capital of the Balaton Lake district. We started receiving planes there from the fall of 1989. At first our traffic consisted only of the foreign planes flying over from Budapest and the few planes in Hungarian ownership. This meant just a few planes a day and we were seriously bored most of the time. We spent the hours from opening to closing of the airport in a small wooden barrack and the only excitement was provided by the police helicopters which came to visit occasionally.

Scarce traffic or not, this new life around small aircraft had a charm and novelty for us. Working at the big Ferihegy airport we talked to the pilots only via the radio, at Balaton Kiliti we got to meet them in person. A whole new world opened for us and I for one liked this direct contact very much. I might say it was a much better feeling being able to go out to the plane and do a bit of hell-raising if the pilot did something silly. At Ferihegy this was impossible, everything happened in a much more regimented manner.

Balaton Kility from the air with Lake Balaton in the background

Yes I liked this rural life and was among the first who applied also for the 1990 season. By May of that year, LRI had a kind of terminal built at Kiliti for an exorbitant price. Since they never bothered to consult us, this new building turned out to be of doubtful value. The tower cab on the top was a hothouse in the summer and by midday everyone had to escape or risk a heat stroke. We soon gave up experimenting with that thing and simply stayed downstairs, working from what was meant to be the reserve radio room. It had a terrace and we talked to the planes from there. The building also housed our living quarters, so for four days at a stretch we usually did not set foot in the outside world. This was both good and bad. Tired by evening, we usually stayed put when in fact a bit of night swimming in the lake would have been a good thing.

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The tower with a soul… 10

On 29/03/2010, in The tower with a soul, by lajos

New politics, new hopes

The miracle happened in 1989-90. Hungary became independent, a sovereign State with free elections and a multiparty parliamentary democracy. That this also brought with it the darker sides of capitalism did not concern anyone back then. An omission we came to regret later. In short order we had to realize that it was not Paradise that had arrived but unemployment and the world of capital. The cadres who had a comfortable place under the old regime transformed themselves into capitalists, flashing in new guises while they divided the spoils of the transformation among themselves. In other words, the old party apparatchiks allowed the peaceful transition into a new system because they saw a stable future for themselves. They did co-opt a few new faces to make the rest of the population believe that a change had indeed taken place but the old cadres were very much present in the leadership of all the new parties.

There was only one good thing about it all, the Russian occupation force left the country (of course nowadays there are many more Russians in the country but they are tourists).

Completing the Russian withdrawal

The trouble was, in their new-found freedom the Hungarians dismantled most everything that actually worked well under the previous regime, something they should have thought over a bit more. We found out that our nation is better at destroying than building things.

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