A.ndreas Schick is the master of 170 aircraft. Quite big planes, actually, they can carry attack helicopters and armored personnel carriers. But when the Major General of the Air Force looks out of the window of his headquarters in Eindhoven, he only looks at a parking lot, trees and a decommissioned fighter plane.
A couple of Dutch Hercules vans and tanker planes are behind the trees, on the military part of the airport, of course, but everything else is well distributed across Europe. Schick has machines in Wunstorf, Lower Saxony, in Orléans in France, in Saragossa in Spain, near Rome, in a total of fifteen locations. In fact, none of them belong to him. Even so, he steers her around the world most of the time.
That is one of the special features of the European Air Transport Command that Schick is in charge of. “The states can regain full control of each of their aircraft at any time,” said the sixty-year-old officer at the start of the introduction, “that is very important to them.” Of course, he says, one tries to minimize the reasons for this. It is also not often that a country shows the “red card”. But it’s a matter of principle. The seven states represented in Eindhoven practice the most extensive military cooperation there is in Europe. Even so, they are still sovereign.
“Pooling and Sharing”
It’s an experiment that runs here every day, with a good 200 employees in a modern, light-flooded building. The military call it “pooling and sharing”: the states pool their capabilities and share them. Each aircraft bears a national badge and is on a national base. But when it comes to which machine is used, it only plays a minor role. The main role is played by: who has the most suitable aircraft for a particular transport, is it available at the moment? And, often just as important in practice: Who will get the necessary overflight and landing permits the fastest?
Christian Guntsch throws a card on the wall to explain this. It is about the relocation from Afghanistan; that occupied the head of the situation center for weeks in the summer. The card shows how long it takes for each country to issue “diplomatic clearance”, the clearance for a state aircraft. It’s routine in Europe, not outside of it. In one country it takes five days, in the next ten, in one even 15 days. In the case of dangerous goods, weapons and ammunition, the waiting time can easily double.
That is why Guntsch planned two different routes for the mission. The “normal” route led from Kabul via Tbilisi to Germany. On the other hand, dangerous goods were flown out via Islamabad, the Emirates on the Gulf and Jordan. This is not the direct connection, but the approval process went faster in this detour. “In addition, we always need a plan B in case a country withdraws our overflight permit,” says the German officer.
Shuttle service to Gao
It is also about politics. During the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Italy had to give up a base in the United Arab Emirates and move to Kuwait. The Emirates had urged Rome to agree to an arms deal, which the government refused. France is currently experiencing that the tensions with Algeria through the assessment of the Algerian war are also having an impact in the airspace. French transport planes are no longer allowed to fly over the country; it is right on the way to Mali. Other nations are now stepping in. The command in Eindhoven even organizes a regular shuttle service to Gao.
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