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.

Lajos2

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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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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FAA Makes Tower Closing Decision

On 23/03/2013, in Life around runways, by steve

rThe Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reached the decision that 149 federal contract towers will close beginning April 7 as part of the agency’s sequestration implementation plan. The agency has made the decision to keep 24 federal contract towers open that had been previously proposed for closure because doing so would have a negative impact on the national interest.

An additional 16 federal contract towers under the “cost share” program will remain open because Congressional statute sets aside funds every fiscal year for these towers. These cost-share program funds are subject to sequestration but the required 5 percent cut will not result in tower closures.

“We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration.”

“We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

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At the tail end of the darkest year

On 23/12/2012, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

Luckily, the failure of Ferihegy tower did not last long. But it was nevertheless long enough to cause misery to thousands of travelers. A few of them tried to find alternative means of transport, like taking a bus to Vienna and trying to secure a seat on planes there. Others, resigned to their fate, just went home and I am not sure they will ever try flying again. In any case, the experts reestablished power to the tower using a portable generator so at 7 am on the 8th of December operations could resume. Colleagues on the night shift told us that they awaited the “miracle” in the control centre as there was not much logic in going out to the tower. The supervisor acted as messenger, bringing news of how the works were progressing. In the early hours of the morning came the information that they should now return to the tower, set up the systems and be ready for the morning departures to leave on time. It must have been some night!

Not that our night shift was any better. On the night of 11 December, we switched from the generator to normal power. I was one of the lucky ones who could watch the screens go dark as the generator was switched off. A scary sight! It would have been nice to make a video of this event but these days the price you pay for something like this is being shot in the head, so it is not worth it. When all went dark and on the emergency lights twinkles forlornly in the whole building, we too moved to the rest area. Luckily, it did not take long before we could return to the control room and it was time to restart the systems. Then we watched expectantly… what would happen? Would it all work? But once again our technicians had done an excellent job and the morning peak could go ahead without any problem. Everyone was happy, some may even have had a few champagne bottles popped… Of course people at the airport company were also eagerly awaiting the news from us… but that is another story.

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When the (tower) roof falls in…

On 17/12/2012, in Life around runways, by steve

Ferihegy airport was shut down recently for the better half of a day as the result of a complete failure of the control tower. According to news reports, a heating pipe failed and this resulted in the electric installations being soaked. No electricity, no play.

Many years ago I did work in the control tower of Ferihegy, albeit not in the spanking new one which went belly up this time but in the old one adorning Terminal 1. We did have failures involving our radios (we had a battery powered reserve set) and the control panel of the runway lights (which were subsequently operated from the airport’s central power station)… Once we even had approach control talk to the aircraft normally worked by the tower and we gave approach the clearances to be passed to the pilots via telephone. It was not easy but closing the airport because of a technical glitch like this was not something any supervisor in their right mind would have proposed back then.

But it is now… there must have been an overriding reason for shutting down the field rather than coming up with a nice solution.

Apparently, the folks in Budapest did not really have a well thought out contingency procedure to use in such cases. May be they thought something like this could never happen…

Anyway, Roger-Wilco went around some of the airports in Europe to see what they have up their sleeve in case the roof falls in. We will start with Brussels National and London Heathrow and Gatwick. They are not really comparable with Ferihegy but are nevertheless similar, since they all have new towers with the old facility still intact.

BRU Tower with two control rooms below each other…

At Brussels, the new control tower has two control rooms, at different levels in the control tower building, with basically the same equipment in each. If the whole tower needs to be evacuated for whatever reason, the old control tower cab, atop the main terminal, is the designated “contingency” tower. This is equipped with more or less the same equipment, tools and interfaces as the new tower. So, any service interruption will not last longer than what is needed to get the controllers from the old tower to the new one. The “Belgocontrol Contingency Plan” contains the details of the Brussels Tower Contingency Plan, all of which is published in the Belgocontrol Contingency Handbook. When things go sour, everyone takes the Handbook and follows the detailed guidance contained therein to perform their individual, pre-assigned duties.

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Transition

On 17/12/2012, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

Following our late-autumn holiday, returning to our dearly loved capital city’s even more beloved airport, we once again struck the strings in the thick of life. There was no time to get bored, in part because of the frequent foggy weather but even more, since air traffic control’s history had entered a new phase. Apparently all obstacles have been removed and the second part of November saw work starting in the new air traffic control centre, ANS III.

For starters, we were given a short orientation course that covered the process of transition. We then went to gape at the new control room. My first impression was that the place had become much more colorful. The red wall to wall carpeting did cause some differences of opinion among the colleagues however. There were those (among them myself) who liked it, while others though the color was too bright.

The room does not appear to be substantially bigger but there is more light a fact approach controllers will not like much since the windows cause reflections on their screens. I guess curtains will make sure that the Sun will not shine often in this new room either. We did not get to see the other areas and one can only hope that the colleagues will have plenty of space also for relaxation and rest.

Obviously, with all this going on, the Tower is not left unaffected. We too are getting new software and this will be phased in as the transition progresses. We have two additional monitors… two more things to watch! The various offices under our feet are also evolving to line up with the new requirements. One of our rest areas was moved into an office previously belonging to the boss… I wonder whether his ghost will be watching over our heads as we slumber and rest.

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The First Day in the Tower Without MALEV

On 06/02/2012, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

We woke to a sad day on 4 February 2012. We had every reason to be happy… winter had arrived and we were looking forward to some serious snowfall. Of course for those on day-shift this was also cause for a bit of apprehension, what with the memories of a day two years ago when the airport had to be closed from 8 am till the evening due to snow. But on this Saturday snow problems were far from our minds, the main theme of conversation was the tragedy of the day before, something that elicited total shock within the aeronautical community of Hungary. What will Ferihegy Airport look like without MALEV aircraft? I drove to the airport with a knot in my stomach. I was driving as if I were going to an unknown, alien place.

The parking lot was the first sign that something was terribly wrong. On other days it was almost impossible to find a lot at Gate A since MALEV’s crews were also leaving their cars there. Now? Only a few cars were waiting as if being the forebode of nothingness. Whatever… we will be busy if for nothing else, the snow will take care of that, so we hurried out to the tower in our usual minibus. Once there, we listened in awe to the night shift who related to us the story of the “black army”, the crews who took poor MALEV Boeings on their last trip back to Shannon. I was fighting back tears… It was little consolation that our management assured us that we were not in danger. There is nothing that will compensate for those damn blue-nose planes! Once again I started to feel that anger, the anger at not being able to do anything that has flooded me so many times also in past years. As soon as it was light, I looked out towards Terminal 2 and saw only one or two jet birds and a few of the turboprop Indians which were later joined by the sole Bombardier sporting the old MALEV paint scheme. She was the one who brought home the “black army” pilots. I was glad that I was not among them… or may be I wished that I could be there and cry together with them? I wasn’t sure…

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In Place of Praise

On 12/01/2012, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

The end of 2011 is in fact the end of an epoch in the history of Hungarian air traffic control. I do not want to qualify this epoch, future generations might do that in the fullness of time. The fact remains, an important generation of controllers have retired. I call them the “beat-generation”. About 40 people have, willingly or reluctantly, chosen for retirement in 2011 mainly to avoid the consequences of the altered pension rules kicking in this year.

They were lucky in this also, like in so many things during the past 40 years. Our generation will miss out on any favorable terms of retirement, exactly because of the huge numbers in the “beat-generation” causing the strain on the State retirement fund to grow exponentially. This is why the age limit for retirement is being raised, a fact that affects our generation especially hard since the age limit is climbing in front of our very noses.

The “beat-generation” was lucky also in arriving at the airport at just the right time. With low traffic, they did not take long to learn the tricks of the trade. I have heard from them many times that they became air traffic controllers more or less by accident, they were working at the airport where they heard that aircraft could not only be flown but also controlled… Of course as time passed by, they grew with the traffic. They had another ace up their sleeves. In those decades, controllers were still a team, they knew how to stand together and protect their interests. This was the case when we came home from the ATC course in Riga after almost three years. They knew that our knowledge was superior to theirs (not only because of Riga) and they responded by simply closing ranks. At the courses held on home base they were present as instructors and they did their best to make us hate this business and to discourage us from trying to be more clever than they were.

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Winter season survived at Ferihegy

On 11/05/2011, in Tower chronicles, by lajos

It would appear that we have survived the 2011 winter season without major hiccups. Events arose only when a bored office-bug decided to fabricate an elephant from a flea… Luckily either they were not bored enough or there was a lack of fleas but the number of overblown events were also thankfully low.

What was completely unique in my 28 year career (my goodness, 28 years?) is the fact that we had not a single day of freezing rain, this great enemy of controllers and pilots alike. Freezing rain makes the snow clearing brigade shiver also, making their work totally useless. When freezing rain strikes, they can spread all kinds of miracle substances on the runways and taxiways but the effects are short lived and within 10 minutes or so they can start all over again. But luckily we did not have any of this during the past winter season.

What we did have was a meeting of the group leaders, we practically started the year with that. Two noteworthy items were on the agenda: one concerned the reduction of paperwork the other an effort to achieve more uniformity in our work. In respect of the former we got the usual promises from our bosses who stated that the “project” was shaping up nicely… A bit more patience and it will be the end of paper journals, daily reports and paper incident reports (of which there are at least three kinds), everything will be done electronically. After two months I took the liberty to enquire: how was the project progressing? Because we always get briefed about everything except the important things, I mean the things important for us… And I think this is where the problems are, in Hungarocontrol ATC has been relegated to the peripheries. The office bugs who know nothing of the trade are working (?) so hard, they have practically overshadowed the real stuff. Even in higher management the number of real professionals has dropped to almost zero and the few Indians still holding out seem to have some difficulty in remembering where Ferihegy Tower is… But we do have scores of projects…  As expected the reply to my question was, please have a bit more patience, the project is advancing but there are still a few administrative obstacles to be eliminated.

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Changes are coming to a tower near you – the Distant Aerodrome Control Service

On 04/03/2011, in Life around runways, by steve

DFS, the German ANSP will be introducing its Distant Aerodrome Control Service for the first time at ATC Global Amsterdam (8 to 10 March). Using the Distant Aerodrome Control Service, aerodrome controllers can switch between the display of visual information and sensor data. They are no longer primarily reliant on the direct out-of-window view. Aerodrome control is now possible both from distant locations as well as under poor visibility. What’s more: DFS is also showing its modular PHOENIX Tower Automation Suite and additional ATM solutions.

The distant aerodrome control solution provides the controller with a combination of visual data on the one hand, as well as instrument and sensor data on the other. This combination allows the controller to readily review the air and ground traffic situation at the airport and in its vicinity. High-resolution pictures from video cameras installed at the aerodrome deliver an artificial real-time view. By means of a monitor wall attached above the regular console screens, the controller can track aircraft on the apron and runway as well as zoom in as necessary. The real external view is replicated as precisely as possible.

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