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DETAIR Sarajevo

By 2nd Lt. Bruno Mnard
First published in
SFOR Informer#122, September 19, 2001

At the end of the track, an Air Bosna plane gets ready to take off. It is waiting for permission from the control tower. On the other side of the track, military radar watches the trajectory of every plane that lands or takes off at Sarajevo's airport. The men of DETAIR (French Air Force Detachment) are true professionals, and they are responsible for a number of tasks.

Sarajevo - The French Air Force Detachment, under the authority of the Multinational Division-South East (MND-SE), is organised as a real air base. There are 229 people who work on the base, among which are 139 French airmen, 13 Germans, 32 Moroccans and 45 civilians. Runways are open from 7 a.m. till 9 p.m., but it is possible to open them approximately 30 minutes after making a request. The current activity of the airport is about the same as before the war. There has also been a stabilisation in the activities since 2000, due to the return of normal traffic. All the civilian companies that land in Sarajevo are from European countries: Austria, BiH, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Switzerland and Turkey.
The main missions of DETAIR, according to an agreement signed in 1998 with the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) of the country, are: the implementation and the security of the airport; the transit operation for the benefit of SFOR and the UN; and the reception and the protection of very important persons (VIPs). Another important task is to ensure the progressive transfer of these duties to the DCA. Two secondary missions have been added to the previous ones: the support of the specialised units and of passage, and the transit operation of any military plane.
DETAIR's many facets

A little history
•April 1992: beginning of the war, Sarajevo siege
•June 1992: airport lent to the UN
•June 29, 1992: landing of the first plane (French C160)
•July 1992: implementation of the first DETAIR
•Dec. 12, 1995: passage under NATO command
•Aug. 15, 1996: landing of the first civilian plane
•Sept. 18, 1998: signature of the current agreement fixing the main mission of DETAIR.

From 1992 till 1995, during the war, Sarajevo's airport was managed completely by the French. Now, a big part of the job has been restored to the civilians, but the French detachment still remains present to ensure air control and security. Actually, according to Col. Denis Messmer, DETAIR commander, "We are still here for a certain time." DETAIR works in close collaboration with the DCA. "We have an excellent relationship with the civilian authorities of the airport, but there is a lack of means at the local level," specified Messmer. The transfer of security and the protection of the airport are on the right track; on the other hand, the transfer of the air and operational control remains unsure. But he added: "Here, there are only professionals. We are above all specialists. Everybody knows what he has to do." The staff is assigned for four months, except for the medical service, which changes every two months.
Around the French airmen, other people participate in the life of the airport and in its security. DETAIR has its own fire brigades which train regularly, sometimes with the civilian firemen. They are true professionals themselves, even if they still have no knowledge of the aeronautical environment. The Air Force Police do the same work as the Military Police. Sent also for four months, the four French non-commissioned officers and three German "Feldjäger" (military police in German) ensure the same mission as on an air base, which is security. They are mainly in charge of the safety of the VIPs, who are usually generals, ambassadors, ministers and chiefs of state. They are also in contact with public relations officers, and in charge of welcoming them.

Some key figures
• Traffic:
- 43 movements/day, that means 16,000 movements/year, among which 45% are civilian.
- 170 servicemen/day
- 350,000 civilians/year
• Transit freight: 9t/day
• Civilian freight: 3t/day
• Approximately 94 VIP's per month
(A movement corresponds to a landing or a takeoff)..

At the meteorological office, WO Gilles Bertheaume recognises that he "performs the same tasks as in France, with practically the same means." Weather forecasts are sent to various organisations three times a day.
Abilities transfer
DETAIR tries hard to give more responsibilities to the civilian staff, who should some day take over the airport completely. Some of the transfer of responsibility has already been realised. The clearing of snow, the sweeping, care for the civilian plane park and the provisioning of all the aircraft are tasks now left to the Bosnians.
On the other hand, air control stays for the moment under the responsibility of the French. Capt. Laurent Mauget-Rousseau, the air control chief, explained that, since February 2000, "DETAIR is charged with the training of civilian controllers. This year, 10 civilian controllers are in training, and should obtain their certificate at the end of September."
But, in order to be autonomous, there should be 21 on the whole, and this figure will not be reached for the moment. The transfers of security (concerning the civil help plans) and protection (involving the State Border Service, SBS) are foreseen at the end of this year.
At present, six civilians of the Air Information Office (AIO) are training. There is some talk about a possible withdrawal of the French from the strategic jobs of the airport next summer.
The presence of DETAIR thus remains, for the moment, indispensable. It is the only organisation capable of maintaining the level of security of the airport and ensuring the implementation of airport procedures, while continuing the transfer of its abilities to the civil authorities.

Humanitarian help from DETAIR

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: France, Morocco
Related link: SFOR at Work