By Neil Vidler (and others)
The International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers' Association was constituted in Amsterdam on 19th and 20th October 1961, as a result of the efforts of a group of air traffic controllers to federate and further the interests of the air traffic control profession at the international level.
Although there had been discussions on the subject at various national and international meetings and conferences where controllers of various nationalities met each other, it was in 1959 that the Swiss Association suggested that a meeting be held to explore the possibilities of world wide federation. The meeting was held in Frankfurt, Federal Republic of Germany. It was felt at the time that it was too early to expect such far-flung interest, and, accordingly, plans were made to draft a constitution for a European Federation only.
Although many Member Associations serve their members in a dual role of both professional and staff association, others are constituted solely and strictly within professional interests of air traffic control and kindred subjects. The principle was, therefore, accepted that the common interest of all the associations and guilds within the Federation would be a professional one, and the Frankfurt meeting subsequently declared its intention to found the European Federation of Air Traffic Controllers' Associations (EFATCA).
A working group was appointed to prepare a draft constitution, and this group completed its task by mid 1960.
The Convention, Constitution and By-Laws were duly ratified by 12 Founder Member Associations: Austria, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany (F.R.), Netherlands, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Ireland and Switzerland.
The Constitutional Conference, held in Amsterdam in 1961, finally decided to seek world-wide ATC interest and constitute the Federation as the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers' Associations, with the aim of furtherance of safe and efficient air navigation and the protection of their common professional interests.
The first Officers elected to the Executive Board, at the time called "Board of Officers", were:
President: L. N. Tekstra (The Netherlands)
1st Vice-President: M. Cerf (France)
2nd Vice-President: R. Sadet (Belgium)
Honorary Secretary: H. W. Thau (Germany)
Treasurer: H. Thrane (Denmark)
Editor: W.H. Endlich (Germany)
Those first steps in 1961 towards forming an international federation were viewed by many States and their representatives with misgiving, fearing the rise of an international union. IFATCA’s officers were, however, determined from the outset to dispel these fears and strove to establish their reputation as a technical organisation and their efforts were focussed on the technical aspects of the profession. This approach is evident even in the pre-IFATCA years when the Europeans were discussing their separate but overlapping problems and, in IFATCA’s nascent period, its future officers demonstrated great foresight and were embracing the new technology and related procedures.
The UK Guild of ATCOs joined IFATCA at the first annual conference in 1962 and immediately assumed responsibility for Standing Committee I (SCI) – Technical Matters in ATC. Arnold Field was the first Chairman and remained so until 1970 when he was elected third President of the Federation. It was largely through the work of this Committee that IFATCA established its reputation in international civil aviation.
A permanent Executive Secretary, G. W. Monk (U. K.), was appointed in 1963 and the Secretariat established at East Twickenham near London.Just prior to its 1963 annual conference, IFATCA received its first invitation from ICAO. IFATCA attended the RAC/OPS Divisional Meeting as an observer. Despite having only 4 months to prepare, Field and his Committee submitted 6 lengthy working papers. Key among these was ‘Control of Flights in VMC’, ‘Cruising Level Systems’ and ‘ATS Personnel Responsibilities’. The first paper proposed extension of air traffic control to aircraft flying VMC in controlled airspace and the latter represented a move for clear ICAO guidelines to controllers to take into account terrain clearance when radar vectoring aircraft. ICAO accepted the IFATCA position outlined in the various papers and ‘granted’ ‘Extended Control’ as requested, instituted the table of hemispherical cruising levels and defined air traffic controllers’ terrain clearance responsibilities. This collective acceptance represented an outstanding achievement for such a young organisation and was reflective of the high quality input from the individual professionals.
IFATCA was then asked to assist in the preparation of proposals for the introduction of primary control procedures in ICAO’s PANS/RAC document. When ICAO released its draft procedures mid 1964, substantive contribution had been made by only 5 States (France, Germany, Spain, the UK and the USA) and 1 international organisation – IFATCA! The Federation’s contribution to the final draft in 1966 formed the basis for the standards and procedures in use to this day.
Whilst making these great strides in the ‘Technical’ area, IFATCA was also paying close attention to Human Factors. The Federation was in the vanguard of development of this discipline and created its ‘Human and Environmental Factors in ATC’ Standing Committee in 1964. However, this SC was born with a high degree of nervousness and trepidation in that it might impinge on areas that IFATCA’s charter forbade, namely, industrial matters. History has shown that it trod warily but successfully. The 1964 conference also charged Ireland (as the first Association responsible for the SC) with creation of the Information Handbook.
The Geneva conference of 1967 directed the Swiss Association to develop ‘The Manual’ and Bernhard Ruthy (then Treasurer) accepted the task of producing this himself. He continued with full or partial responsibility for amendments through until the next millennium! We also saw the ILO make a first appearance at conference in Geneva.
At this conference, the ILO formed the opinion that they should seriously consider the problems of air traffic controllers. As an earlier study of ATC had not studied the problems deeply enough, the ILO determined upon another more rigorous investigation and commenced a ‘Study on Conditions of Service in ATC’ in 1969. The study was beset with problems one of which was ICAO’s insistence on review of the draft report. The report was finally released in late 1972. Considerable input was made by Jean-Daniel Monin (who become PCX in the meantime) and within a very short time IFATCA was being routinely invited to important ILO meetings.
In the meantime, IFATCA had ventured beyond their European borders and travelled to Montreal for the 1970 conference. Whilst the membership of the Federation was now 26 Associations, only six of those were from countries outside Europe. So it was still very much a European dominated organisation and travel to Canada was viewed as a major step. The fear of a small attendance was overcome in extraordinary fashion when the Air Force of the Federal Republic of Germany provided 2 B707s to transport delegates from Koln-Bonn to Montreal and return. The flights’ call signs were ‘IFATCA 70’! Further underlining the uniqueness of the event, the conference opening was addressed by the President of ICAO, Mr. W. Binaghi who commented that IFATCA has “... given ample proof of your dynamism ..... you have given better and better service throughout cities and regions ....”. The attendance by Mr. Binaghi was a concrete measure of the respect with which IFATCA was now held.
And so ended IFATCA’s first eventful decade. It had been a constant struggle financially. Unreasonable obstacles had been placed in its path. There was growing unrest over working conditions. The difficulties of honorary office were manifest. Major controversies had arisen. However, the elected officers were justifiably proud of the progress made: now 33 MAs after Montreal with 12,000 individual members. It was a conservative era and the Federation reflected the times in achieving its early objectives.
THE SECOND DECADE (1971-1980)
The second decade was destined to be an entirely different affair. It commenced in the shadow of continuing and escalating industrial activity and threatening politics. Despite its charter, IFATCA was unable to remain aloof. The decade’s first conference (Athens) saw so many Human and Environmental Factors subjects on the agenda that a special sub-Committee A was deemed necessary. This sub-committee morphed into Committee C a year later in Dublin. This conference saw the election of Jean- Daniel Monin as President.
Monin was to become deeply involved in both industrial disputation and politics throughout his 3 terms. 1973 saw two serious back-to-back industrial disputes in France and Germany. The French strike saw replacement military controllers utilised and President Monin giving press interviews and making appeals to the President of France.
Sadly it was brought to a conclusion by a midair collision and the death of 68 people on board one of the aircraft. All dismissed controllers were eventually rehired. The go-slow action in Germany caused havoc and, despite achieving a measure of success with the Bonn government, Monin saw the dispute end with the German Association levied with severe punitive fines. Whilst these events were transpiring, the Federation held its most significant conference since its formation. Reykjavik (1973) saw sweeping constitutional changes, a changed Executive Board structure and formation of the Executive Council. There were also lengthy debates on the question of one State/one MA (viz the dual American Associations’ applications) and the EGATS affiliation.
In 1974, a preparatory meeting for the ‘identification of social and labour problems and scope for ILO action in the field of civil aviation’. Indicating another serious step up in recognition (despite some objections from participating States), IFATCA also represented the ‘workers’ at a tri-partite meeting in late 1977. From this meeting of ICAO, ILO and IFATCA sprang the most important event the Federation was associated with in its then 18 year history. May 1979 saw the ILO’s ‘Meeting of Experts with but a single agenda item: Problems Concerning Air Traffic Controllers – Identification and Possible Solutions. The ILO immediately signalled that they were looking to the real experts (ie, the controllers themselves) for authoritative opinions and concrete proposals. IFATCA delivered and laid major emphasis on human and social conditions in ATC. The meeting settled upon no less than 52 conclusions which covered every professional aspect of an ATCO’s employment. The Conclusions provided a broad definition of the needs of the controller and conferred upon their employers the onus to provide and allow them. These Conclusions have subsequently formed the basis or provided the background for almost every ATC claim in the world.
In 1975, the Federation made a giant leap for IFATCA-kind with success over the IATA 200 issue. Two of the Federation’s 3 largest MAs had now withdrawn. There were now big professional and financial holes to fill and it took some years of belt-tightening before the Federation was back on its financial feet. The second decade ended, as had the first, with a conference in Canada, this time in Toronto. (The Canadian Association did a magnificent job in just 9 weeks due to a late notice change of venue.) But the decade also ended as it started with major industrial disputes. The 1970s were plagued by ‘air traffic delays’ throughout Europe as controllers took various actions to compensate for low controller numbers and aging inadequate equipment. In addition to the French, German and Canadian actions already mentioned, there were also significant disputations in Spain, Australia,Mexico, Italy and Greece. Air traffic controllers were not happy!
And then the hi-jacking epidemic commenced. In several countries controllers were placed under severe pressures as they faced this new scourge to international aviation. IFATCA faced the issue squarely and The Controller provided controllers with international and national statutes on piracy and comprehensive details on related aspects of international law. With this as a backdrop, discussions on confirmation of Tel Aviv for the ’74 conference entered new realms. Loud and many were the calls for this venue to be cancelled because of the geopolitics being played out. But IFATCA’s EB quite correctly carefully avoided making a decision based on political considerations and relied solely upon IFATCA rules and procedures in deciding that it was not constitutionally possible to alter a decision which had been made by Directors at the 1972 conference and confirmed in 1973. It is history that a very successful (and, for the first time, outsourced) conference was held.
THE THIRD DECADE (1981-1990)
IFATCA’s third decade commenced most inauspiciously. In the USA, in August 1981, 13,000 members of PATCO (out of a total membership of 15,000) downed their headsets. PATCO had only re-joined IFATCA the previous year. Naturally, havoc ensued but instead of compromise attempts it was accompanied by unbelievable Presidential intransigence and vindictiveness. IFATCA subsequently became involved in the protracted discussions but, in the face of total obduracy, nothing could be done to prevent the eventual dismissal of some 11,300 professionals and the shocking sight of some being led away in chains. It is to be hoped we never see such sights again. It was years before any sort of normality returned to the US aviation scene and it was the late 1990s before President Clinton relented and allowed those dismissed to be re-hired. Of course, by then it was far too late for most.
Again, fiscal restraint became the order of the day and deficit budgets for 1982 and 1983 were approved. Meeting attendance was severely cut back and two Standing Committees were disbanded.
Sadly, the Federation’s ExecSec Ted Bradshaw was killed (by a tramcar) whilst on IFATCA business in late 1982 in Zagreb. Heroically, his widow Peggy shouldered most of the Secretariat workload at an obviously tragic time and ensured the 1983 conference went ahead. They were both jointly awarded the Scroll of Honour in Split.
For its silver jubilee, IFATCA travelled to Costa Rica, the first such visit to Central America. This conference saw the retirement of Harri Henschler after an outstanding 8 years as President. During this time IFATCA had progressed from a struggling adolescent organisation to a mature, self sufficient body routinely invited to world forums and widely respected for its views. Promotional work and the value of the ILO Conclusions were also bearing fruit by this time. The San Jose conference requested the ILO undertake a study into ATC conditions in developing countries and the Costa Rican government enthusiastically supported the move. Subsequently, the ILO reviewed the situation in both Costa Rica and Panama.
The introduction of every new piece of technology has always engendered considerable discussion, debate, argument and feeling and probably none more so than automation. Whilst wary, controllers have been cognisant of its benefits and its abilities to improve their capabilities and to increase capacity whilst maintaining the essential safety element. So, when IFATCA was asked for comment on the report of ICAO’s fourth Automation Panel in 1967, they immediately addressed the issue of compatibility. Little resulted from these early ICAO discussions, however, and it wasn’t until 1986 that real action occurred. Throughout the intervening years, IFATCA continually stressed that harmonisation of equipment was key to reducing delays and continually sought controller participation in the process. Obviously these entreaties were paid no attention for, by the mid 80s, within ECAC there were 30 States with 54 ATC centres utilising 22 computer operating systems and 30+ programming languages!
Despite an initial rebuff, IFATCA was dogged in its determination and finally was rewarded with participation in the Future European ATS Systems Working Group in 1988. With major European controller input (primarily the UK’s Steve Hall and RVP Philippe Domogala), IFATCA ensured that the two main areas of Air Traffic Flow Management and Human Factors were adequately addressed and accordingly concentrated their efforts in these areas. The ATFM policy was noted and partially accommodated while the HF principles were accepted in totality and the entire IFATCA input was included in the final FEATS report in 1989. A side benefit of this acceptance was ICAO acknowledgement that staff shortages (and resultant poor relations with administrations) were real and that the traffic problems rampant at the time were not attributable to industrial activity alone.