100 years of ATC and IFATCA - Marc Baumgartner - IFATCA

Picture of Vincent Lambercy
Posted by Vincent Lambercy
Welcome to one more episode of Radar Contact. Today we will a double topic, we'll speak about hundred years of ATC, which we celebrated lately and also a bit about IFATCA. And for my guest is Marc Baumgartner, who has a very long resume when it comes to air traffic. Controller has been an air traffic controller for 31 years. He is representative at IFATCA, used to be the CEO and president and he also work with the Performance Review Commission of EUROCONTROL. So Marc, very happy to have you. Good morning and welcome to the episode.

Good morning. Thank you very much Vincent for having me.

Can you just start with a brief introduction of your profile so far, your career and maybe tell us what brought you to ATC in the first place.

Yes thank you very much. So what brought me to ATC? Well, in Switzerland when you are 13, 14 years old the school sends you to make some presentation on potential jobs or studies you would like to do. And I didn't want to become a pilot, but I wanted to do something in aviation that was the proximity of my parents' place to an airport. So I managed to be able to go and visit the control tower in Berne the Bern airport, and I was fascinated. So this was basically love at first sight and I wanted to become an air traffic controller. At that time the Swiss air navigation service provider didn't hire any new students. They had enough controllers and so I did some accounting studies. Then I had the opportunity really by coincidence, big luck to do a stash of a couple of weeks in the Swiss air navigation service provider's accounting department.
And after the school they called me back and say, would you not like to come back as an accountant to our company? Which I of course did because my dream or my aim was to become an air traffic controller. Then I was fortunate enough to be selected and I became an air traffic controller in 1991 in Geneva and I'm still working there as a controller and sent a supervisor and I still enjoy the job. So one can say it's a passion which started at a young age to do with aviation and so on. And it's still good fun to do the job. I still do all also night shift and things like all these things which sound very, how you say that sometimes in the dark corner you don't know exactly, so work has really done, I still enjoy to do that. And then of course lucky me, I got involved in various other things and I had the opportunity to make my job also to become my hobby. And part of the work I'm doing next to my daily job has to do with air traffic control. I always say that to joke a little bit. There are poor people who have very strange hobbies or there are people who have very strange hobbies and I have my job as my hobby. So yes, passionate.

That's really cool to hear this kind of passion even after all that time. And we mentioned it in the intro, so ATC turned 100 last year. I think skyguide got some publications about that as well. And I've read myself back in the time, one of the first air traffic controllers was providing what we would now call tower service. And the guy in the UK was basically waving flags at aircraft and now it's slightly different. So how did you see the whole evolution and where are we now in ATC in Switzerland and in Europe let's say compared to that waving flags?

Yeah, so first of all, what I would like to mention, you mentioned Switzerland and I have to say that I have to mention that for the hundred years of air traffic control which after a bit of research we found out it must be around 2022. Why? Because in the UK, the air ministry in 19 22, 19 22 approved at Croydon airport, the first operation of an air traffic control tower. We went there as IFATCA and we actually did look at the museum, which is a fabulous museum in Croydon nowadays and at the old airport. And the first air traffic controller license was also issued in 1922. So we decided to mark that as 2022. Now coming back to my home country, actually the Swiss aviation service provider was also starting to get a license in 1922, which at that time was done Radio Marconi, it was in Geneva because you had the former organization of the UN, which was la Société des Nations, was already in Geneva and they needed telecommunication.
They needed to actually be able to talk to the people, but also to bring the diplomats together to Geneva. So that was a coincidence. And the coincidence then motivated both skyguide and also IFATCA to try to get a stamp. So the Swiss Post actually officially have has published last year a 2.50CHF stamp, which you can use for A4 envelope. So it's fabulous that we also leave a philatelic how you say that, mark of this 100 anniversary. To come back a little bit, what actually motivated us as well in IFATCA to celebrate that on a global level. This 100th year was really the quest to leave a trace of the history of the profession. It's a history which is marked by the evolution of the political situation of the societal situation of civil progress, of technological progress. And we were fortunate enough that we have two guys who are air traffic who used to be air traffic controllers in Maastricht who took up the Herculean task to write a book about this.
So the book will give us some sort of heritage and leave some of the very marking events in the evolution of this profession for the future generation. And this book deserves I think a couple of podcasts, but stand up to you if you want to invite the authors to come up in your show. But what we learned, what I learned, because I'm only in the field of air traffic control since the early nineties, but what we learned through this work on this history book is actually it started during both World War. So that was the flag, what you mentioned the people were, the radio communication was only in the very beginning. So they actually started to do use signs with, well you've mentioned flags or also with guns and things like this. So lighting, guns and so on. And then after the World War II in particular, technology had also improved.
Radar was invented, the radio communication means improved significantly. So most of the air traffic controllers who were serving in the military, the women and the men were actually civilized or the service was continued under a military control. So that was really at the starting if you wish, for initiated by the spectacular technological progress. Also World War II gave to aviation. One of the biggest advantages. So the big step, if I may call it like this, was when the jet age started. So before that you had turbo props. You had props and things like this. And actually what this led, this new form of technology, jet engines led to a completely chaotic way of air traffic control. You had nearly every week accidents with aircraft, mid air collisions and things like this. And that started to put pressure on the political system that started also to put pressure on a standardization on a global international way of looking at it.
And that was actually also one of the big driver to organize their traffic control to make standards, to improve the safety records and so on. And that actually then led to a huge increase of traffic, also a huge increase of the traveling industry. And that led then to something which with hindsight or now looking at it is very fascinating. When I mentioned to my grandmother or my grandfather that I wanted to become an air traffic controller, she said to me, my grandmother, oh yeah, they're always on strike. And I couldn't believe that because in Switzerland there was only once a strike of air traffic control in 1972. But the profession was always linked to strikes and it was always links to labor disruption and things that is. And when you look at as I said, when you look back at the history, then you see that actually the recognition of the profession.
So coming out of World War II, military service military men and then into a civilian organization with huge traffick increase, a chaotic organization and so on, the profession actually they survived in on their daily jobs. And at a certain stage they requested, the controllers requested the recognition and that led them to huge disruption. So some of you might be aware that in 1981 in the US, Ronald Reagan fired all his civilian air traffic controllers PATCO, the PATCO organization which was born basically after a collision. They said, Hey, come on, we need to organize that. We can't continue to have every week passengers being killed and so on. And that lets them to the same movements in Europe, in France, in Germany, were in Germany for example, for some weeks that the government ahead of the government tried to negotiate with the head of the air traffic controller movement and so on.
So that's just a little bit to show you these years were very disrupted and very influenced and so on. And also one thing which struck me when I started to actually read a little bit of the book, what the two gentlemen did and so on, is we are progressing or we have been progressing mainly because of accidents. So we are a disaster driven industry, if I may call it like this. And that is also quite important to understand why we, at least as an international organization and global organization, are so keen to defend safety, to actually keep safety at the highest run because it was really the invention of TCAS, for example, traffic collection avoidance system was ordered by the government in the US after one major accident in the Grand Canyon. When you look at the evolution, for example of TCAS, just to take one piece of technology, we had a mid-air collision in Delhi, we had a mid-air collision in Uberlingen and every time we improved the system, so every time the technology was improved, the standards were changed and so on and so forth.
That I think is something which we have to keep in mind that the fabulous, if I may call it fabulous, the very impressive safety record. So 10 to the minus seven, 10 to the minus eight sometimes is also due to all what we have learned in the past. So we are coming now at a stage where so some asymptotic phenomena where we can't learn anymore from the accidents, so we need to learn from the incidents and so on and so forth. So these are the major things. So further what we saw at IFATCA at least, and I'm really also very proud of this because I have been part of the leading team for quite some time as I was in the executive board of IFATCA for 12, 15 years, 14 years I was the president for more than nearly 10 years. And we became a recognized observer to ICAO to the navigation council.
So the voice of air traffic controllers being lifted up to the global standard body, which is very important. Sometimes in Europe we tend to forget that they're outside of Europe. You do not have anything like EASA or anything like the commission or something like EUROCAE, the former GAA and things like this. So there is ICAO, but most countries around the world ICAO is mama and papa together in air traffic control. So that for a global federation like ours was very important. And what was very important as well, because this is a domain which evolves, it involves slowly, but it evolves, there is a need to harmonize what we are doing. It's a need to harmonize research, it's a need to harmonize the standards and so on and so forth. And ICAO came out in the late nineties, early 2000 years with the so-called ATM global concept.
And still now, at least for me, this is a very inspiring document. So I'm sorry some people might think that's a bit crazy, but it's a very inspiring document because it shows how conceptually we will involve with technology where we go. And ICAO took up the very difficult task to bring together NextGen, which is the research development technological project and SESAR in, so NextGen is in the US and SESAR is the technological pillar of Single European sky. So massive amount of research money being put in the sector. And we had to align that and ICAO actually managed to align NextGen SESAR under the so-called ASBU. And we have now at a global level, some sort of a roadmap. It is not a fast track thing, but it is something which is very important and we have been associated as a federation, as the voice of the air traffic controller to actually participate to this harmonization project.
And we are still trying to go step by step, push this road with our means towards the realization. While that's a little bit the history from the flags to maybe the modern time and things like it, but if you look at it conceptually speaking, we haven't changed actually. So we are still talking now we are WhatsApping now sometimes if I may call it like it. So we have CPDLC, we're WhatsApping between controllers and the pilot or we are talking to the controller and the pilot. We are still using surveillance mechanism to actually see where the aircraft is and imagine where it will be. So that's basically the job of the air traffic controller he sees with means either with binoculars or with the radar where the aircraft is or by position report from the pilot. And then he tries to imagine where the trajectory leads to pilot leads the aircraft and based on that he will then try to apply a separation. So that's still conceptually speaking, we haven't changed anything that is to me for me. Interesting. Well.

Now that that's very true. As you mentioned technology change, we have now surveillance, we have ADS-B, we have these kind of things but the core of the job remains the same despite technology. And you mentioned as well how ICAO tries to marry SESAR and NextGen. And you make an interesting point here because on one side we have NextGen, which is basically managing half a continent, and on the other side we have SESAR that manages Europe, but in Europe we have, I don't know, 40 plus centers and ANSPs. Do you think there is a chance in the near future that there will be some cross border organizations in Europe or is it something that for political and strategic reason will never occur?

Next question please if I may say so. No, it's a very difficult question because after the World War II, several initiatives were taken to never have a war in Europe again, okay, there were political instruments, there were societal instruments and things like this. One of these ideas in air traffic control was the creation of EUROCONTROL. A brilliant idea, a brilliant idea saying we need to harmonize that. We need to make the continent, the airspace over the European continent, a peace project. It was not declared like this, but actually the aim underlying societal aim, if you look at it like this also again from hindsight was to create something where the people would work together and not work against each other. EUROCONTROL was founded with the idea to control the upper airspace of Europe. The jet engine arrival again made it a bit chaotic and that initially there were maybe two air traffic control centers for Europe planned one in Maastricht and one I think was in Ireland and things like this.
But then when the jet engine arrived, the fabulous increase in traffic, there was revenue screen coming for the government which needed money. So that was also, it was a cash cow in the beginning. The fact that aircrafts were flying more and more and more gave governments funds which they could use not necessarily only in the air traffic management in infrastructure, but also for other project in different other domains and things that is so that then maybe led to some sort male, let's call it egoistic national behavior, which then this big idea of having one big air traffic control provider over Europe as a peace project or as a logical follow up did not materialize as additionally thought. But that body then helped at least to become some sort of a technical arm in Europe to bring the people together and to work together at some of the ideas.
One of the big achievements is the CFMU. So that was decided in the ministerial transport minister's meeting in 88. So that led to this flow control central being brought together in Brussels. Now we call it the network manager. It also help to create or maintain master as it is. And of course we have other things. EUROCONTROL is in the lead and it's the harmonization of all this idea in a technical way to bring the people together. One of the other biggest achievement is the RVSM introduction of reduced vertical separation mima over 40, 45 countries the same date, the same time you had to train 17,000 controllers, you had to update 64 different air navigation service providers, flight data processing systems to the various controller working positions had to be updated and so on. This is a fabulous achievement.
You couldn't do that without having somebody like EUROCONTROL coordinating that the US benefited heavily. So the FAA benefited heavily from the experience we had in Europe, which was led harmonized by EUROCONTROL. Having said all this, the European Commission came in 1999, Mrs de Palacio had a also wonderful idea of creating a single European sky. In the beginning we did not really understand what was the idea. Now we have understood it and you see that the people are much less enthusiastic maybe when it comes to this. And one of the ideas which was a theoretical idea or a liberalized idea, which comes from the European commission's DNA, was to bring together so-called chunks of airspace. So they have done that in energy, they have done that in water, they have done that in commercial part of their regulation. So they have used the same model, if you wish, the theoretical model to try to introduce competition in something which maybe was not thought through very well because on the one side you have the liberalization of the air transport sector, which works, which worked even if, I mean in the US when they liberalized air transport, about 274 airlines were created of then still four exist.
So in a purely theoretical point of view, one might question if the liberalized model is so successful, but nevertheless it brought us airlines like Southwest, it brought us new business model also in Europe where you see that flying can be organized differently than just on the national flat carrier model. So coming back to functional airspace blocks, which was a political idea, that is basically not working except Maastricht, Switzerland, we have been controlling, I have been controlling French and Italian territory. My colleagues in Zurich have been always controlling over German and Austrian territory. So it is a reality basically, or Shannon, when you look at how the oceanic part is being controlled. So all these things exist. ICAO has airspace which is managed by certain countries. You have hogar control currently controlling the airspace overhead, Kosovo over overhead, the Kosovo territory. So cross-border as such is not an issue.
Technically speaking, training wise you can do that. The only thing is how far are the states, the nations willing to give up for certain sovereign or certain influence our money. So that's basically that. And that was a tango. The commission and the member states have been dancing now for quite some times on functional airspace law. If you add now an additional complexity element. So most of these states had to bail out their end navigation service provider. Meaning what? Meaning that they have renationalized financially at least their air navigation service provider. So I'm not good in prediction, but I think the functional airspace block will never materialize in a way which was imagined. That doesn't mean that on a technical or regional level, you can't offer cross border services, be it temporarily like we see in Kosovo or be it in an indefinite, but the idea of providing air traffic control to some remote places from another place is still very attractive.
I'm not sure if we should be aiming at doing that in the core area. Also, keep in mind we have 530 or 540 sectors, air traffic control sectors end route in Europe and 60 to 70 are the ones who have not enough capacity to offer. So why trying to actually use the theoretical model of functional airspace. It's an economical model now which was invented by London School of Economy and transpose, but it was invented and tested it in the research to actually look at the sixties to seventies sectors in Europe, in core Europe and how to use these mechanism, this economical mechanism to alleviate the capacity crunch in this area. The commission took it and spread it all over Europe and created the idea of functional airspace block, which is a political idea. So I mean the attractivity to solve capacity issues with bit more working together I is quite attractive.
And if I may, it is we are really sometimes I ask myself, why are we not better in technology? We are still at the pre one G level of telecommunication. Okay, so meaning, meaning that if you have to transpose what we are doing in ATM into telecommunication world, it means you would have to enter a code in your phone every time you change antenna. That's where we are technologically speaking. Despite the massive amount of money we spend into research, the basic infrastructure has a huge potential still to be upgraded without going into too many political issues, social issue of bringing people together into one air traffic control center. Sorry for this long answer.

No, it's completely fine. And coming from the technical aspect myself, I could enter it a debate here, but that would probably be for another episode. But I like your passion for the job and the fact that you've been into that so long and still be passionate. Now understanding that we are facing a challenge as aviation and ATC specifically with the next generations. I mean integrating them, gaining people to have that passion and to have interest for the jobs we do. What would be your suggestions for the newcomers? People potentially looking at ATM considering a career ATM, but also people in ANSPs that are in charge of bringing the new generation in? Which changes do you see here with your new colleagues?

Well, it becomes philosophical now. The job is attractive, the job is demanding. Not everybody has the talent to do it, so you need to get a selected few and the job will evolve despite what I have said maybe before. Technology is there so it will be evolving, so it will become slightly different. So as such, it's about making this profession better known and better known because the competition for the young talents is now with the so-called mint job. So engineering scientific jobs and things like this, everybody wants to go into the computing world, into artificial intelligence, into programming because that seems to be for the time being the most attractive career one can do. I think in 10 or 15 years time, all these mint jobs will be replaced by the artificial intelligence. So there might be at that time then we might be more attractive, but I think that's a real challenge to make our job better known make it also sufficiently attractive, not just with the badge press of <laugh>, we have always been on strike or things like this, but rather with what you can do achieve.
And then we have also to be honest to ourselves, it's a craft. So it's not maybe that attractive for some of the young people. So it's a craft still. A craft means you have to learn a lot from the elders. You have to do a lot of on the job training. It is also something which you have to deliver at the certain moment. You have to be on time because otherwise your colleague who has been working the whole night shift will not be very happy. And even that nowadays, I think that the more discipline part is something which needs to be taken into account. And then also I think we need to also be honest that we have lost a little bit the focus on what we need to achieve. So we have come into some sort of visiting end range thing. So we are well established.
We have no fear for our jobs in the coming 20, 30 years. You can still make a full career when you start now until the end of retirement. You can still do a full career there. What I don't think we can would know is it attractive because the new technologies will help us. So are we seen as very modern because of digitalization will help us? Are we seen more modern that because in the future we will only work with virtual gogles or virtual reality in a tower. So it makes dreaming to people that you can do some sort of fancy job movements when you clear an aircraft to land or you take it on a screen and you put it with a virtual reality to a different state. So this part of attractiveness, I'm not sure if that is something which will help to attract more people. So difficult. I think it's really we need to more look at ourselves, what we are doing, what are the strengths of this profession? Who is talking about, this is also a lot, if you have an air traffic controller talking about the job, it sounds different than when you have the air navigation, service provider marketing or media relations. So it's also we need to learn from each other to make it the most attractive.

Thank you very much. And until close up, we have our usual question. And you mentioned already you are not good at predictions, but you won't escape that. No way. Where do you see ATC in five years from now, but also in 50 years from now?

Yeah, we had that at the hundred year celebration in Brussels. We organized on the 20th of October, 2022. The 20th of October is the air traffic, international air traffic control. Today, IFATCA has sponsored at the global level to say we have to celebrate this job. So on the 20th of October last year we had a panel where we invited a few people and say, where do you see us in the next hundred years? And that was really interesting to listen to the guests who were talking about this. So I will say a few things which I of course have stolen from there or they inspired me. But to come back to the five years, I will be retired. So that means I still have the four, I'm still one of the privileged one who can go into retirement at 56 years of age. So I'll be retired personally. But where do I see the job for the sector in five years?
I hope I'm not sure that we will be looking at environment as the main driver, as the main driver for anything we do in air traffic control. We have in Europe a fit for 55 program. We need to be part of this very challenging target or objective. We need to start now. So all what we are doing in the performance scheme in Europe and things like this, this will delay the achievement of the environmental targets if we do not change. And that's a message to the politicians. If we do not change and focus completely on environment, then we lose. We will have the bad image like the tobacco industry in very, very soon and then we will then be part of that. So there is for me a huge wake up call. We need to change the performance scheme completely. We need to focus only on the environment and all the rest will come.
It's very attractive. It needs a little bit of work. The other thing which we'll see in five years time is we are understaffed throughout Europe in particular to 60 or 70 sectors who cause the delay are understood. That means together with the currently demographic situation in most of their air navigation service provider, meaning that the people are about 45, so have another maybe 10, 15 years to go. We need to hire people now because situation will get worse. So that's something which will bring most probably negative press. The other thing, what I see as well is the debate. We have started at IFATCA is, how do we integrate the new technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning which has a huge potential. It has the same potential as the arrival of of radar as a surveillance mean into air traffic control. So we need to get that right because we cannot explain to a traveling passenger or to passengers, why for two weeks there is no air traffic control system working because it's somewhere in a cloud it didn't work.
Or there is a challenge because we don't understand what the algorithm is doing and we need to start to look into that, how we can use this new technologies and together with the human bring the system really a level up. So I wouldn't say that in the next five years we will start also to have this debate and a bit further down. It's really difficult. So if we get the environment part correct, then I'm very hopeful that we also get the benefits from that, which will help to solve some of the issues we are talking about just before a fragmentation of the airspace cross border services. If I can work for a CO2 neutral trajectory from a flight coming from Istanbul going to Chicago, I look completely differently at my job than what I do today when the aircraft comes in and get out because I am part of something on a trajectory based operations and that needs me, but my colleague and the other colleague and it needs the network manager who orchestrates that, who choreographs that from the very beginning.
So there's a huge potential if we try to achieve these environmental targets to actually also help ourselves to mobilize the sector. So I would say that in the next five years, in the next 50 years, and here we are getting really into prediction, which I'm not good there I hope. I really hope that the new technology will assist the controller to cope with the envisaged traffic increase and that we can then also use the experience of the first CO2 trajectory based operations, which we then will not be able most probably to calculate or optimize without artificial intelligence and things like this. So that instead of doing what I do now, maybe up to 25 aircraft in summertime in the busy sector, that I will be able to gather with technology to run 35, 40 aircraft maybe in this sector. And maybe I can then also be less regional minded, less sector minded, but maybe I will be then also able when I, and sometimes in the morning we align all the inbound traffic to Palma de Mallorca, but we align them without knowing what Palma de Mallorca needs as an arrival sequence.
So I would really wish the technology at the certain stage will tell me, well, you have now 14 guys going to the same destination. They are one hours away from their destination airport. But here is the sequence we have already prepared because of various reasons, because of passengers operations and stand management and things like this. Instead of me trying to do three or four alignment sequence and so on, and my colleague next door Marseille or my colleague after him in Barcelona, they will do exactly the opposite of what I did. So it kept me happy, it made me proud, it makes my colleague proud, but from a systemic point of view, it's not very clever. So I hope these things we will see coming.

Marc, that was brilliant. Thank you very much for being our guest today. And yes, thank you again for being here today.

Thank you, Vincent. Thank you very much.