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!
Things changed though with the arrival of democracy… sorry, bureaucracy. The bean-counters figured that it was cheaper to simply close the airport when it is snowing than to maintain the capacity to properly clean the runways and taxiways on the few days of the year this was required. The airport operator fired the experienced crew and organized snow clearing brigades from people working in other areas who, needless to say, knew little or nothing about snow clearing and had even less experience in doing it. This resulted in an achievement not seen in the previous 27 years; on 30 January Ferihegy was closed because of snow. The early morning departures managed to take off with some difficulty but it was snowing so hard that the cleaning machines only made the braking action worse after each sweeping pass. So, my good friend GP, who was the airport supervisor at the time, had the occasion to utter the historic words into the airport STORNO radio net: the airport is closed due to snow, time of reopening uncertain.
The airport remained closed until the late afternoon of our day shift, when the intensity of the snow fall let up a bit. The snow clearing conga-line then went to work and brought the braking action on one of the runways to Medium, whereupon traffic restarted. Of course this kind of restarting brings with it a bit of a chaos, which flights should go first, which are more important but we have had this kind of problem also in the past after shorter stoppages also.
On that day we were really bored in the tower, in spite of the view of one of the younger guys who opined that air traffic controllers had the best life that day.
The other event is from more recent times and it reminded me of just how small this planet called Earth really is. At first we did not pay much attention to the Icelandic volcano eruption but when the news came that the British had closed their airspace due to the danger posed by volcanic ash, we knew that something really extraordinary was happening. I missed the news on the afternoon of 16 April and so went to the airport for the night shift a bit unprepared… Had I listened to the radio, I could have taken a good book with me to read because Hungarian airspace and the airport had both just been closed when I reported for duty. This was the third occasion this year where we did not work for a whole shift. Of course most of the tower controllers actually like to work and so we weathered the idle hours with impatience. It is not good when people are not working in the tower. Most people start to get spectacularly bored, they run out of things to do and so start to get on each others’ nerves. They get into arguments, start to talk about politics and especially this latter makes for really loud exchanges. In order to distance myself from that process, I tried to hide in the supervisor’s shed, with more or less success I may add. I wanted to hear the news mainly because I had a personal interest in the ash cloud. In six days we were due to fly to Paris with the family and I wanted to know how things were developing. In the end we got lucky and traffic resumed on the very day we were scheduled to depart and we were able to fully enjoy that wonderful city.
Well, this is the last part of my reminiscences about the life of our tower at Ferihegy. To make sure events of the forthcoming years do not go unrecorded, I have decided to write a journal. If there will still be a place for me on Roger-Wilco, with Steve’s help I will publish the journal articles also.
I would like to thank Steve for his encouragement without which this series would not have been born and I would like to thank my readers who have followed the stories from the beginning. I hope we will meet again!
The tower with a soul has been one of our most popular features, each time a part appeared, there was a spike in visitors. Well done Lajos and we hope to see more from you!