Mr Air Traffic Control: Meet Robin Lehmann
“It took months!” says air traffic controller Robin Lehmann about securing permissions from the 37 different countries that have granted permission to the competition's 24 balloons. We find out more about him and his job here at the competition...
The idea of jumping into a lightweight wicker basket and being whisked into the air, to travel as far as the wind will carry you is impossibly romantic, but of course the reality is very different – not least because of the huge airspace issues along the way.
Most people wouldn’t think about it, but airspace across Europe – indeed much of the world – is highly regulated and controlled. Navigating the paperwork involved could be a nightmare, but luckily the competition organisers had a professional on side.
“It took months!” says air traffic controller Robin Lehmann about securing permissions from the 37 different countries that have granted permission to the competition's 24 balloons.
From the north of Norway to the southern tip of Italy and from the west of Ireland to the coast of the Black Sea in the east, the 60th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett offers a vast area for balloonists to fly. But every country needed to be approached individually to obtain permission to allow the race to enter.
“Brutal” is how Lehmann characterises the job, and his four-inch thick folder of notes bears testament to that description. “It’s been pretty crazy. Email after email, trying to find the right people to talk to in each country, dealing with different languages, even in one case having to explain what balloons are and that they make no noise.” Belarus had asked for a noise certificate for each balloon, which is pretty hard when you are dealing with noiseless aircraft.
Only a minority of countries are ruled out. Belarus because things eventually proved too difficult, and Kosovo, because it is a “closed country” when it comes to air space.
And then of course there is Russia. Open up Russia and balloonists would potentially be able to fly east for hundreds if not thousands of kilometres. But sadly that wasn’t to be. “It wasn’t specific enough for Russia,” Lehmann explained, “They like to know when, where and who is coming over.” He shrugs a never-say-never shrug.
Lehmann is on loan from Germany’s national air traffic control organisation – thank you Germany – and is happy to have been involved. Would he do it again? He considers. “Actually, it’s in Switzerland next year, and you know, that’s not so very far away…”
Photo: Heavy paperwork... Robin Lehmann. Photo: FAI / Marcus King