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Zagreb Air Traffic Controllers

By CPO Tim Adams
First published in
SFOR Informer #92, July 19, 2000

Zagreb, Croatia - Air Traffic Controllers are known the world over for the critical and stressful work they do to keep thousands of people safe while criss-crossing the skies at hundreds of miles per hour on their way to various destinations. Imagine controlling all the civilian aircraft coming in and out of Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH) plus the military transports and fighter jets patrolling the zones here, and you have some idea of the work performed by SFOR's Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) in Zagreb.

"The amount of information that passes through this guy's position is huge," said Scottish Flt. Lt. David Donaldson as he gestured toward Flt. Lt. Chris Jochum, who was busily talking with aircraft and other controllers on radios and telephones. "Imagine the whole of Bosnian airspace, the information and everything in it passes through one guy's position, it's a massive amount of data," explained Donaldson.

SFOR's air traffic controllers work alongside civilian controllers on huge radar scopes in a dark, cavernous, room near Zagreb's airport. Incoming aircraft are handed over to them by normal traffic control explained Donaldson.

"They give us details and estimates for each flight, then we control them for the final approaches into the forward air fields such as Banja Luka, Mostar, Tuzla and Sarajevo," he said.

A flying NATO air traffic control centre is constantly orbiting in the region. The SFOR controllers speak with it often as they sequence the multi-national aircraft that streak in and out of theatre.

Two to three controllers always work together at one time as a team to efficiently handle the workload. Eight to nine controllers from various nations make up the whole ATC team and they work nine to ten hour shifts to staff the control centre from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the week.

Control of the airspace below 10,000 in elevation was returned to BiH authorities recently as part of the normalisation process, but the workload has continued to increase because more civilian aircraft are returning to the theatre.
"We have Lufthansa, Swiss Air and others entering Sarajevo and getting greater and greater and greater in number," said Donaldson. "We are controlling them at the same time trying to de-conflict them with (SFOR aircraft). So it's a balance between the military traffic and the civilian traffic."

Donaldson said that they keep aircraft at least five miles apart or at least 1,000 feet between elevations to provide the most safety. "We try as much as we can to place that as our number one priority and if that means holding aircraft and delaying aircraft we will," he said.

All SFOR personnel can rest assured as they fly in and out of theatre for there are friendly eyes and ears controlling your aircraft from Zagreb.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: UK, Greece
SFOR at Work