Waking from a Nightmare

On 23/05/2016, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

Photo metadyne

Photo metadyne

Did I actually shoot myself in the foot? Is it possible that I will have no work in the future now that we have woken from a nightmare that has lasted several years? Since there is no more 4NM rule, no noteworthy tower incident has occurred that would have required an investigation. What will become of me? Of course these questions are meant to be ironic, but they are also food for thought.

One thing is sure, the nightmare has ended and for five months now aerodrome controllers work with the 3 NM rule instead of the earlier 4 NM one.  An outsider might be forgiven for asking what is the great difference between 3 and 4 nautical miles? Does that one small mile make such a big difference? I have to tell you the difference is far bigger than one might guess from only looking at those numbers. When the 4-miles rule was still alive for use between an arriving and a departing aircraft using the same runway, aerodrome controllers often grappled with the thought in their minds: I could still let this guy go without infringing the threshold-threshold separation rule. But they could not allow that unfortunate departure go because then the 4 NM rule would be infringed… If he or she tried anyway, he or she would either get lucky or not… If he was not lucky, us incident investigators had to open a ticket on the case and the controller got a dress-down of sorts. This had the result of binding controllers into a knot and they would refuse to let departures go even if there was still plenty of time to do so safely without infringing the 4 NM rule. Unfortunately, a lot of controllers were getting tied into such knots in the course of the past several years. I had an opportunity to review several incidents during which the voice of the colleagues held a clear indication of their stress and the cramped effort to remain safe… This kind of working brought with it a drastic reduction of the aerodrome control’s efficiency. Ample proof was supplied also by the remarks thrown in by some pilots who were of course used to how ATC works at other airports where they can on occasion see even the registration marks of the aircraft taking off as they themselves are landing.

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The year in retrospect – 2015

On 08/02/2016, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

In the unlikely event that someone was missing my writing in 2015, my apologies. I could blame my extremely busy work schedule or my private life for not having had the time to write, but I am afraid I would not be completely truthful. To be perfectly honest, I got a bit too lazy… yes, this is what covers the actual facts best. To make up for having been so remiss, I will try to provide you with a look-back on the year, the way our great politicians have taught us.


The author…

So, what has transpired in the life of the Ferihegy control tower in 2015? If I said basically nothing, I would not be far from the truth. This was a year of treading water, something one may consider both good and less good news. That the monumentally idiotic 4NM rule is still with us is something I consider a personal failure of mine. Late November of last your it looked like the end of this incredibly stupid madness (and I am avoiding using the word “rule” on purpose), something that has been the source of untold frustration to the air traffic controllers, due to some strange administrative error, it is still with us. Peculiarly, this particular paragraph had been removed from the amendment proposal in 2014 but in the end all through the years it was not actually removed from the applicable provisions.

The same thing had happened now.

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Making History

On 08/12/2014, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

In the second half of October 2014 we have been writing history. Controllers from the Aerodrome Control Tower and the Approach Control Unit participated together shift by shift in a half-day training session on incident investigation. Possibly this is business as usual in other countries, but in Budapest it took 30 years to become reality. At long last we have reached the point where the ditch that was dug quite unnecessarily between the two units is finally being filled in.

The need to learn each other’s work better for controllers from the tower and approach units has been hanging in the air for some time. It looks funny in writing and gives one lot’s of food for thought… but how did we work until now? Is this job not all about team-work? Unfortunately the past several decades were all about pulling apart rather than team-work and this was what we got fed up with, with my colleague and friend Gabor Vass. Looking at things from a purely safety perspective, the investigation of a few incidents had made it clear that things had to change, that something had to be done.

In the fall of 2013 we attempted to move things forward, but we only got two hours to discuss together the outcome of several incident investigations. The very positive experience of that event resulted in us getting a full morning this year, something that gave us the opportunity of presenting not only more serious incidents but also interesting cases that fall into the category of improving the quality of air traffic control.

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Ground zero… where it all began.

On 16/08/2014, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

fgIt is with pleasure that I accept a request from numerous readers of mine who have asked me to tell the story of my becoming an air traffic controller. At first sight, the answer seems to be very simple: by accident. Then, thinking long and deep about my early years the question arose: was it really just an accident that I became an air traffic controller?

What about the little guy who was watching with gaping mouth the movement of trains in and out of the stations… Or the kid who would watch for long periods of time how buses tried to turn in the tiny space of provincial bus terminals? And chap who went home and built accurate models of what he had seen. At first I moved my toy cars the way I saw the buses move and later spent hours playing with my model railways. I was not out to have the trains run around as fast as possible… no sir, I built a station and led the trains into it using the witches built into the tracks.

OK, this had nothing to do with aircraft but in the late sixties, early seventies flying for me was still in the category of impossible wonders and so I watched with a total lack of interest as IL-14s plodded above our house.

We shall now make a big jump in time to land in technical school where I am getting ready for the GCE exams. This technical school was anything but a lucky choice for me, a guy with two left hands and zero affinity to technical things. I was constantly fretting about how I will pass my GCE exams. Then one gray winter day a letter arrived in the school announcing the possibility of applying for foreign scholarships. This having been the middle of the seventies, the destinations were exclusively from the socialist neighbors of Hungary and of course the GREAT Soviet Union.

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When day shifts are celebrations

On 01/08/2014, in Tower chronicles, by lajos


Graphics by David Allen

Although I try to keep track of developments and read all the NOTAMs being published for the airport, when I report for duty in the tower I start the day with a heap of questions. Have anything changed? Is this or that still like it was last time? What is open? What is closed? Any new orders I am not aware of? The poor guy from whom I am taking over is obliged to spend more time explaining things to me. So far they have not taken offence because of this. In any case, they are very nice with me… sometimes I have the feeling that they are just a tad nicer than they should be… But we only laugh about this and agree that the extra kindness is being dispensed only to make sure that if ever I will be investigating an incident in which they are involved, my pencil will be less hard on them. So far they had no occasion to be upset with me. In many vases I was able to set things right when it was clear that the colleague had things under control yet still managed to have a separation infringement of say 0.3 NM. This is such a small infringement that following this up seriously would do more damage than good. After having explained this concept to the colleagues, they stopped worrying about what would happen to them in case things went wrong just a little.

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Don Quixote in the windmill

On 25/05/2014, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

don_qioxoteAfter a long and arduous battle, Don Quixote, the brave knight has finally managed to conquer the windmills! Walking on foot towards the door of the windmill he was running a mental exercise listing all the things he would be doing in there. He has been dreaming about this for years, how he will save the world once inside the mill, how he will mill the flour which will be much finer than anyone had ever created before. That his flour will be liked by everyone he doubted not at all. With a drop of tear in his eyes he looked once more at the conquered wings of the mill. Almost regretting that the battle was over, our knight stepped to the door opening it bravely. Well, life goes on and us, with it.

Don Quixote had often pictured the insides of the mill, imagining all the nice, pleasant and interesting things lurking there, always adding a thought about how he will enjoy himself once on the other side of that door.

Stepping through the door the first obstacle reared in the form of two mean looking guards who blocked his way. Our hero did not bat an eye… after all, he had fought with such characters thousands of times before at the fence guarding the windmill. To his surprise when he grabbed for his sword, the guards started to smile and greeted him politely. Our knight was a bit confused but he said hello and started to walk again, stealing a look backwards to make sure the guards did not pull a fast one and attack him from behind. But they were ignoring him already, once again fixing their gaze on the door. This surprise was followed by the second, close upon the heels of the first. Don Quixote had no idea so many people were working in the mill. Strangers were passing him left and right going after their business without casting him a glace. Are they all millers, our hero wondered in amazement. They all appeared to be much younger than himself and this only added to his confusion.

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Neither here nor there…

On 09/02/2014, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

LajosI must be out of my mind, no question about it. After just one week on my new job I had tears in my eyes when I was sitting once more in the tower, headset on my ears, I uttered the magic sentence: “Cleared to land, runway 31 right”. I also had this nice feeling… I have not gotten completely detached from the tower. Sure, the new job is an exciting challenge but you do not get over 30 years just like that. Luckily my voice did not betray my emotions and so I escaped being made fun of by my colleagues.

One thing is sure, it was strange going out to the airport every day for a week… well the airport? More like the ANS facility. The reception did help a lot and made me forget the strange feeling in record time. Slowly I made the acquaintance of the new colleagues whom I did know already from the time when I was just a visitor. This appears to be a nice little crew and luckily everyone have their place and tasks, so they were not looking at me with eyes that would say, now you were the last thing we needed.

So I slotted into my new position, poor Meaty’s old one that got all cold by now. My first act was that of a small remembrance, I wrote a message to Meaty up there, assuring him that I will try to fill the void he left as best I can. This will not be easy as I discovered the very first week. There were also a few hair raising moments when nobody knew where I actually belonged. I was no longer on the staff of air traffic control and I was not yet on the staff of the safety department. So? But matters sorted themselves out after a while. At least that is what I hope.


About my job… well there is not much to write home about, perhaps only to say that as a tower expert, I will keep track of events that concern the tower. If an incident occurs, I will investigate it, draw the conclusions and send the results to the appropriate people. We do have other tasks but I will not dwell on those. I want to continue writing the Tower Chronicles, something that is probably more interesting also for the readers.

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Semi-Farewell to the Tower

On 31/12/2013, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

frThis year I was really impatient for the last day of 2013 to come. In my mind I was cutting the measuring tape’s centimeter pieces like anno during the last days of my military service. Why?
I am keen to start working in my new position and be finished with suffering the slow death of the tower, to be able to do something against it. For a long time I had the feeling that the tower, which turned 30 this year, was in a horrible state and the neglect only increases. What with the celebrations that had been promised for the round-year anniversary and which was almost forgotten! The photos I sent in showing the two-legged monster were simply ignored…
So, for lack of a better opportunity, I am mentioning here and now that Ferihegy Tower has turned 30 in 2013! 30 years is both a lot and not really so many. As age it is nothing to write home about but when considering all the events that rocked the poor thing, it is a wonder it still stands in the middle of the Ferihegy wasteland. Will it survive the next 30 years? A big question and I have serious doubts about it.
This was one of the reasons for my wanting a change. Especially the last 10 years a feeling of powerlessness was creeping up on me seeing that my words about the tower were falling on deaf ears. My new job is in headquarters and I have been heard there in the past when I had something to say about the tower. Is it possible that we were so completely cut off from the real world that in HQ they were not aware of just how big the problems had become?
If for nothing else, this is why I am so keen for 6 January to arrive so that I may see things more clearly.
True, I am jumping ship (well, tower…) but I am doing this to save it or at least to extend its life. To show just how true this sinking thing is, let me give you an example, the case of parking with one’s own car.
Believe me when I say I hate acting like an old wheezer who speaks of nothing else but the faded glory of yesteryear but when there is nothing else I can do, I am forced to turn into a grumpy grandpa.

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Busy October

On 13/11/2013, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

photo_lockheedThe first part of October turned out to be busier than we bargained for. Soon after the nostalgic visit to Riga I was once again on my way to the airport occasioned by a new incident investigation. It was not a big deal, only the usual silly 4 miles issue. This was not the point however. The points were the discussions I have had with the folks at the flight safety department and also their bosses. To be perfectly honest, I was rather pleased when they invited me to fill the post left vacant by the untimely passing away of my good friend Meaty. To be more precise, they asked me to move my base of operations from the tower to the flight safety department. I hesitated for a short time but all the while I was glad that my forecast had come in. No one applied to be a full-time incident investigator during the competition held in the summer and I was secretly hoping that I would get the job without having to take an interview. If that were to happen, I would not need to prove to the twentysomething HR gal that I actually know what I am about. In the end everything turned out according to my expectations and I said yes.

From then on the difficult part begins. It is still not sure when I might start. Problem is, the complement of the tower would not be reduced by only my departure. There are the five colleagues too who have applied for the Kosovo conversion course. Never mind the funny question: why did aerodrome controllers have to apply for a purely area control job? The answer to that question is blowing in the wind, as Bob Dylan would say.

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Coming and going and the 4 mile rule

On 23/08/2013, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

photo_marvanyiThe Summer of 2013 has been mainly a quiet, almost sleepy period at Ferihegy airport. Traffic was light and if we sweated it was due to the temperatures and not the number of aircraft vying for our attention. Incidents that came about were all of the kind that did not count as incidents in the past. Since the introduction of the 4 nautical mile between arriving and departing aircraft rule, it counts as an incident when an aircraft slips inside the 4 NM distance. The young titans (who have never actually controlled aircraft) sat down to puzzle out (they called it modeling…) that the old and many times proven separation minimum called threshold-threshold was not safe and they obliged us to introduce the 4NM rule… This means that a departing aircraft has to start its take-off roll at the latest by the time an arriving aircraft is at four miles on final. If the arrival gets closer than 4 miles, it has to be instructed to make a missed approach, otherwise the event qualifies as an incident. I am not sure there is another place on Earth where they have a totally mad procedure like this, but the fact is, traffic these days is so low at Ferihegy that even this madness could be introduced without visible consequences. Of course I can only recall with regret the good old times when I could simply inform the arrival that I would like to allow a departure to take off before them… This was enough for the pilots, they knew what to do, reduced speed and only in the rare cases where the threshold-threshold separation would be violated would we make them perform a missed approach. I have not had a single case like that in my 30 year career, hence my difficulty with swallowing this kind of new rules.

Of course the most exciting event this summer was the arrival of the first aircraft of Solyom Airways. They landed on 18 August to applause and then left again to return who knows when? But they sure caused a bit of a commotion on this otherwise boring day.

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