THERE WAS A DAY by Jim Loos

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Another guest article by Jim Loos.

To understand history, it is very instructive to hear from someone who was present at significant moments. Between 1953 and 1957,  Walter Cronkite hosted a TV show called “You are There” and each episode recreated an event to give the audience a perspective on what happened and how.

Jim recalls his participation as an FAA representative in several moments of great consequence to civil aviation in Europe, especially the central states which continue to pose problems.

Thanks, Jim.

 

THERE WAS A DAY

Sometime in the late 70’s an assignment took me to Berlin and the Wall.  A German friend later asked what I thought of it. I found it oppressive and I was on the outside (I think we were on the outside, hard to tell). I told him I would put explosives along the wall and at the earliest possible time blow the damned thing up.

On November 9, 1989, the people at the Wall pretty much did.

I transferred to FAA’s Brussels Office in October 1990 and left in September 1994. Long enough to see what many hoped was to be a new world order. In the four years I was stationed in Brussels, I met lots of folks who were doing their bit towards German unification.

On another trip to Berlin in the middle of the transition to a unified Germany, my aviation friends, and the whole German Government, had been given the order to finish the absorption of the East German Government by the end of the year. A tough task. I asked what happens if you can’t do it. Apparently, that wasn’t an option.

I talked to the new manager of the Schonefeld (East Berlin) Airport Tower. He had been transferred from a facility in southern Germany and clearly would have liked to get back there.

“So, are you going to try to get back as soon as possible?”

“Not until this job is done, these people have to realize that things are different now. The Stasi had used everyone as informants on their colleagues. They had to learn to trust each other. Then I’ll go home.”

Early in the process the USAF pulled out of the Berlin air traffic control facility when it was taken over by the Germans. I had always wanted to claim in some ICAO meeting that the US was a “Provider State” in Europe, but I never had a chance (or perhaps guts).

I found that the subject of civil/military coordination in airspace matters was one of enough significance and slightly less conflict to make it a useful opening conversation.

The late Frank Colson from the Pentagon embarked on a series of visits to Central European countries, which were emerging from the Warsaw Block, to discuss civil/military airspace coordination and to establish what assistance they might need.

I recall our visit to Romania. The over throw of the President, Nicolae Ceausecu, had been the bloodiest of the revolutions. Our hosts told a story that the anti-government forces were in an apartment house and the President gave the order for the Air Force to fire on them. The commanders of the Air Force ordered the planes back to base without firing and the revolution was successful.

It was impressive to be standing with men who had faced such a decision and had chosen the right path.

We went to Slovenia, a beautiful country. I asked why the Serbs had not attacked them. The answer was the mountains, the country is all mountains. As I remember our hosts had an air force consisting of a helicopter and a Cessna.

We could see the US planes flying over Kosovo, on the Slovenian radar. Our hosts told us that all we had to do was send troops in and the war would be over. Turns out they were right, except we didn’t even have to send the troops in, we just had to threaten to do it.

The USAF ATC folks at Ramstein AFB came up with the idea to have a seminar on civil/military airspace coordination inviting Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia (the seminar was before the breakup).

 

My first reaction was it was not needed because of the other work going on in the region, including work by the ICAO Regional Office. As usual I was wrong.

It was a three-day seminar with both civil and military representatives from each country. FAA and the USAF gave presentations as did our Central European guests. It was impressive to see all those blue suited guys stand at the mic and explain why it was to everyone’s benefit that the civil aviation authority should have control of all domestic airspace.

The situation at the beginning was the Hungarians had a civil/military relationship, the Czechs were working on it and the Poles did not. The situation at the end of the seminar was that the Hungarian relationship was enhanced, the Czechs had established a solid working relationship and the Poles were not talking. Perhaps more important, the USAF had improved its relationship to all three. A few years later the Polish ATC guy told me that in fact his military counterpart and he had continued talking after the seminar and were able to get things done.

The seminar was a success.

A more dramatic meeting took place at NATO Headquarters a few months later. Again, it was a seminar on civil/military airspace coordination. The head of the Russian delegation was the Chief of Staff of the Soviet Air Force. Frank Colson was the designated host from the Pentagon and it happened that I was standing with Frank and Soviet Air Force Chief of Staff when Frank asked him if he ever thought that he would be standing as a guest in NATO Headquarters.

“No…” he said with a slight grin, ‘never.”

The seminar was a small step in the development of a NATO program called “Partnership for Peace (PIP)” which eventually resulted in the Russians getting an office in NATO headquarter to facilitate coordination as one of the 45 States who became cooperative members.

The outlook looked really good in 1994

The Russians left the Partnership for Peace when they invaded the Ukraine…things have gone downhill since…..But there was a day.

 

 

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