History of IFATCA - The First Decade

By Neil Vidler (and others)

[click the images to enlarge]

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 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.