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Controlling the sky's of Mostar

By 1Lt. Kristoffer Egeberg
First published in
SFOR Informer#108, March 7, 2001

Mostar-The sounds of rotor-blades and turbo-prop engines reveal the busy activity at the airfield of Mostar. An activity carefully watched and co-ordinated by a few soldiers from France. With high-tech equipment and skilled backgrounds, they control the airspace of Mostar.
“We are 11 men working here. One commander, six Air Traffic Controllers, three meteorologists, and one information-worker,” says Air Traffic Control Commander Capt. Laurent Riviere. With them, they have brought a portable airport. That is, everything, including the tower, except the actual airstrips.
“The material we have is typical French for these kinds of operations. Its easy to move, and the containers and boxes fits inside a C130 Hercules or similar freight-planes, ready to be deployed,” says Capt. Riviere.
In Mostar the portable airport includes a tower which can hydraulically adjust its height to seven metres, an operation-centre, a weather-centre, an information-centre, a tactical air navigation centre, full lighting system for one runway, and a radar.
“Everything is very portable. After deployment, we normally have one week to set it up before we are operational,” he says.
The airfield has about 10 000 aircraft movements a year. 95 percent of these are by helicopters, and only five percent by civilian and military aeroplanes.
“It's not a very big airport. The two airstrips are 2400 metres long and 49 metres wide. But the surrounding mountains makes it problematic to land large aeroplanes. Medium aircraft like a Boeing 737 is maximum for this airport,” says Capt. Riviere.
A good thing though is the weather, which seldom hinders aircraft to land and take off. In the Weather-centre the meteorologists analyse weather information received from weather satellites and the main weather station in Paris.
“Here we do general meteorology of the area and forecasts for the pilots. We give forecasts for the day, the next day, and the outlook for the two days after,” says Staff Sgt. Pascal Remiel.
His equipment is of the most advanced only used by the French Air Force also in Sarajevo, and two other places in France.
“Working here in SFOR is very good for my job. We see other weather-patterns than in France, and it's interesting to work with other nations,” says Pascal, as he passes on vital weather information to pilots ready to take off.
The information-centre keeps track of flight-schedules, forecasts, and other vital information for the area, while the tactical air navigation centre monitors all movements.
“Here we have three radar monitors, one for the commander, one to take care of departing aircraft, and one to monitor inbound aircraft. Our radar is located on top of a mountain 12 kilometres from here, and can “see” 50 miles in each direction,” says operator Sgt. Alain Di Crescenzo.
He can communicate with the aircraft on every frequency, and the aircraft responder transmitter gives him information about type, call-sign, schedule and altitude as soon as it appear on radar. The weather forecast is also displayed on monitors, directly in connection with the weather-centre.
“The airport here in Mostar is a good place to work. We are very lucky, because the sky's blue about 80 percent of the time, which means that the Air Traffic Controllers can use their eyes instead of radar most of the time,” says Capt. Riviere. In the tower they have an excellent view of the airfield and the sky's surrounding it.
The airport is usually open from 08.00 to 19.00, with the staff working on shifts.
“But when it's necessary, or special operations or exercises demands it, we are open 24 hours a day. And should an emergency appear when we're closed, for example a medevac, we can be operational within 30 minutes” he says.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: France
SFOR at Work