On 05-01-2010, in The tower with a soul, by lajos
Having held an Aerodrome Control rating in my ATC license and having actually worked as an aerodrome controller, I have this “thing” for the most spectacular air traffic services unit of them all, the Aerodrome Control Tower. Not only is their role vital in running airports efficiently, they are also for the most part magnificent architecture objects, lending their beauty to the whole of the airport they serve.
A particular tower in Europe is even closer to my heart than the rest. Although I started my career in the old tower at Budapest Ferihegy airport and never actually worked in the new one, I did contribute to the airport expansion project which included construction of the new tower as you see it to-day.
Reading the above, you will not be surprised to learn that it was no accident that Ferihegy Tower was the second in our series on the towers of the world. Why not the first? That is another story I might tell you in the future…
What you are reading here is a new series, based on informal chats I had with Lajos Molnar, an aerodrome controller who, unlike me, has been there in the tower at Ferihegy from day one. We talked about many things but the focus was always the tower… its people, its soul, its essence that makes it special for those who work there.
This is the story of a tower with a soul as told by Lajos Molnar who has been touched by that soul and whose soul is part of that tower.
25 years – Less than a success story
The building of the tower started from the top, the levels between the pylons were supposed to get progressively filled up, the idea having been for the tower building to house the complete Hungarian air traffic control organization. In time… Well, as it happened, nothing of this nice plan actually came to pass. The main blocking factor? Human fallibility!
This was before the big political changes of 1989-1990 and the area control center was not allowed to move from the underground bunker they shared with the air defense forces under Gellert Hill. Budapest Approach on the other hand was located on the airport, in what is to-day Terminal 1. They could have moved but refused to on account of the additional travel time required to reach the new tower that was (admittedly) some distance from the terminal.
They also scuttled the plan to start a system whereby approach controllers would have taken turns coming out to the tower to work as aerodrome controllers for a few months at a time. This would have been a really cute carousel service but they would have none of it. Regrettably management failed to recognize and grab the opportunity to enable the personnel of those closely related units to become flexibly interchangeable.
So the tower was left to stand in the middle of the field, conjuring up images of a two-legged monster apparently not much loved by anybody. From that day on, the tower was just a stepson in the air traffic control family and things did not improve when its boss GS himself gave up trying to make something of it. It was GS who just a year earlier arrived in our classroom, shaking his head and explaining that there was a big problem. Almost immediately after the commissioning of the new tower and second runway, complaints about noise started flooding in and all the carefully designed 31 Foxtrot procedures had to be thrashed…
Our group was the first to start its trainee period in the new tower. That was in 1984… We had to pass an exam for each working position with CA grading our performance. Now it is CA who should be put in charge of to-day’s trainees. Most of them would run away crying! Strict that CA was, most of us managed to get our endorsement and could start minding the store on our own.
Our progress was matched by the slow but steady expansion of the airport itself. We had a wonderful bird’s eye view of the construction of Terminal 2! When they first broke ground, we had to stop the traffic quite often while Second World War bombs turned up by the machines were defused and carried away. Some had to be exploded in place…
When the reconstruction of the old runway started, we were assigned to play police men on the ground. We stood in pairs near one of the taxiways and when an aircraft came our way, we stopped all ground traffic. This was fun during the summer months. In winter the only way to survive was by the judicious application of a special version of Jet A fuel… You know the one normally supplied in small flasks. These days its use while on duty is normally rewarded by immediate dismissal, irrespective of how cold it is!
I am actually quite proud of having been first, together with my mates form the same course, in a number of unique ways tied to the new tower. We were the first group of trainees to grace the tower and our trainee period formed the basis of the training of later groups. It should also be recorded that in the person of HM, I was the first aerodrome controller who had a female trainer! This was significant because women were not allowed to be controllers until just a few years earlier!
Once through with classroom training, it was at first strange to start working in shifts. We had two days off after a night shift and we enjoyed this freedom enormously. Returning for a day shift on the third day was something I always looked forward to. Yes, I fell in love with my work and enjoyed being an aerodrome controller.
This was true in spite of a few nasty moves we had to endure from some colleagues… but I will tell you about those the next time we talk.
To be continued…