The Count of the Tower

Forty years in the business. It sounds so easy. Forty years in a tower enclosed on all sides by plate glass.

You can’t let yourself be distracted for a single instant. The job doesn’t permit it. If you’re employed in an air traffic control tower, you have your eyes fixed on the runway, the planes, the sky every minute. On the thousands of pilots come from the four corners of the earth, bearing the lives and safety of thousands of passengers in their hands.
I worked for forty years in the air traffic control tower of Atatük Airport - Yeşilköy as it was called in those days. I retired in 1997. My colleagues gave me nicknames like ‘Father Kami’ or ‘Kami the Count’ since I was always good-natured despite the constant stress of the work. So I became ‘the Count of the Tower’. I loved every one of them, because this profession demands above all that you like people. You have to be patient, attentive and diligent at all times. When I started the job, Turkish Airlines had Viscount propeller planes. Later it acquired Comets, Dakotas, Boeings and Airbuses. I got a chance to see every new plane. But the plane I was most excited and proudest to see was the famous Concorde. It was like no other plane I had ever seen. I will never forget that giant steely white body sparkling under the Istanbul sun. Or the nose of the plane like the beak of some predatory bird.
Maybe they found them a little curious at first, but it didn't take the people of Istanbul long to get used to airplanes and soon make them part of their lives. Young people in shorts, for example, on their way to Florya beach on weekends in those days would take a shortcut through the airport with their beach bags and towels. We tried to deter them till we were blue in the face. And then there were the kites. All the kids in the greater neighborhood would descend on the runway to fly their colorful kites. We tried to sweet-talk them into going elsewhere. Yet how could I ever forget their plaintive reply: “But uncle, the wind is best here. Can’t you tell the planes to move over a little?”
There were of course also moments when we got a little excited but didn’t let on. In 1983, for example, Air France’s Paris-Istanbul flight was coming in for a landing. I could see that the wheels had not descended and I immediately warned the pilot. Later he managed to get the wheels down and the plane landed without mishap. A serious accident had been averted. Air France sent me personally and my team a thank you note.
Now I’m retired. But don’t think I’ve left the tower. Sometimes I raise my head to the sky and I see a plane descending to land. And I say to myself, “Come on, girl. Glide on down and bring everybody safely to their loved ones.” And so it lands. And I say “Welcome” to the pilot I can’t see, and he replies, “Hello Tower!”