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).
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.
All this time, life at Ferihegy seemed to be standing still. There was almost no change. People in leadership positions stayed and the Tower still did not have a proper boss. We noticed the change going on in the outside world in the increasing number of light aircraft using our field. At some point they even got their very own General Aviation Terminal. Oh yes, and one day the Airport minibus service started up, this was a cheaper alternative to taxis for getting to the airport.
At around this time the 5 shift system was introduced in the Tower. Since I have had to change shifts twice already, I was not even surprised when I found myself being part of the newly formed E shift. With a few changes of people between the five groups we did end up with a pleasant complement and even our approach control group turned out reasonably well. This was for us the real “system” change.
As a sign of living in a democratic society, our first independent trade union was set up, the Air Traffic Controllers’ Independent Union (LIFSZ). Anyone connected with air traffic control (like controllers briefing officers, engineers, met officers) could sign up. We were a really big bunch with several hundred members. This did represent substantial power and we were in a position to negotiate effectively with management.
Soon we had to realize that management, composed of the old cadres, was not interested in cooperating with us, that they were ignoring the changed circumstances. We had no choice but to resort to a strike. This of course was a wonderful opportunity to discover who had what it takes and who had not… The cheerleaders of the strike were the same people who used to suck up to management under the previous regime. Then, when the strike actually started, they all disappeared on annual leave! The few who stayed assured management of their everlasting loyalty. This was the “beat generation” as I called them, the same people who torpedoed the tower-approach carousel also.
There was nothing we could do against these people, the managers of the time were from the same generation. .. We, the Riga class, the generation following them made a huge mistake when we did not unite to progressively brush them aside. Instead those with a strong enough stomach managed to rise through individual maneuvering…
At the end of the day, the strike had proven at least half successful. The country heard for the first time that there was such a thing as air traffic control. If I told someone before that I was an air traffic controller, they just looked with questioning eyes. Some with a bit more knowledge of air travel would ask whether I worked at Terminal 1 or Terminal 2. I coined the moniker “two-legged monster” for the tower at about that time.
Well, at least we were better known from that point onward even if not better liked… Our salaries were higher that the Hungarian average and few people felt inclined to support our cause. Strange as it may sound, the crisis in Yugoslavia was what started the real chain of changes for us.
When war broke out in Yugoslavia and their airspace was closed, all the traffic was re-planned to fly via Hungary. The three airways (R22,G1 and A4) had to be eliminated and the whole of the Southern airspace of the country was opened for the hundreds (or probably thousands) of aircraft flying from the Far-East to Europe. This required a complete redesign of the air traffic control process and at least the area controllers could feel the sudden freedom benefiting their work. With the growing traffic, salaries also grew somewhat and this included also the tower controllers.
I think it is important to note that area controllers had performed brilliantly in the face of the sudden huge increase of traffic, so much so that even after the war, a lot of flights kept their routing via Hungary, a clear tribute to the service they had received.
To be continued…