52nd FW, EUROCONTROL host first-ever iOAT training for U.S. military

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Max J. Daigle
  • 52nd Fighter Wing

Officials from the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL) hosted the first-ever training for U.S. military personnel on the improved Operational Air Traffic (iOAT) flight plan here, June 3-5, 2024.

EUROCONTROL officials say the new flight plan format and filing system is designed to improve the ability of military aircraft to operate across airspaces of other countries under EUROCONTROL, as well as facilitate maximum awareness of foreign military flights for EUROCONTROL member states’ civil aviation and air traffic control enterprises. Germany and France have pledged to begin using iOAT in July 2024, with Belgium following suit in January 2025. Several other member nations are also participating in the initial roll-out as observers.

“Europe is one of most complex areas in the world in terms of airspace management,” said EUROCONTROL official Igor Kuren. “What we’re looking to do is mitigate this complexity by making civil and military aviation organizations more equal partners in terms of their objectives and priorities.”

U.S. Air Force Maj. Enrique Villegas-Gonzales, 52nd Operations Support Squadron airfield operations flight commander, said the implementation of the new format into the 52nd Fighter Wing’s flight planning procedures will bolster the wing’s ability to generate F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft sorties that cross the airspaces of countries utilizing the iOAT system, increase aerial training opportunities for the wing’s pilots and improve the wing’s ability to conduct Agile Combat Employment (ACE) movements.

“When we fly through other countries, it sometimes creates delays which require us to submit multiple flight plans, which then require resubmission for approvals,” said Villegas-Gonzales. “When you consider how many aircraft we have constantly flying within European air space, it’s only fitting to find a way to streamline the process. This program will do just that by allowing us to submit just one flight plan, enabling us to quickly get from point A to point Z."

Personnel assigned to the 52nd OSS at Spangdahlem AB, 86th OSS at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, U.S. Army Europe and Africa - Army Flight Operations Detachment at Lucius D. Clay Kaserne, Germany and 618th Air Operations Center (Tanker Airlift Control Center) at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, attended the training to learn more about EUROCONTROL and the iOAT format.

Spangdahlem was chosen as the site of the first course by EUROCONTROL due to the nature of the 52nd FW mission.

“As the official launch for this program was coming up, (EUROCONTROL) reached out to Mr. Chris Steffgen, a local national in our squadron who has rapport with them, and we sent a small delegation to attend,” said Villegas-Gonzales. “We were the only U.S. Department of Defense representatives located in Germany who attended…we were able to build a great dialogue with them, which led to them pitching this training to us because we are located so close to their headquarters. They also thought it was really cool that we had a fighter mission.”

“(The discussions at the launch) made us realize this was the ideal location to host the training at because this kind of training was intended for the fighter aircraft community,” said EUROCONTROL official Cezar Neculae. “The complexities and challenges of airspace management this initiative was designed to solve primarily involved fighters, so we were very happy to come here and meet the target community for this.”

EUROCONTROL officials teaching the course said it gave them the opportunity to receive valuable feedback from the attendees on iOAT’s impact to their organization’s internal flight plan processes and the training methods and materials employed during the course. The course also gave the trainers the opportunity to tour 52nd OSS air traffic control facilities and meet with more of the squadron’s air traffic controllers.

“It’s important to us to make these kinds of connections,” said Neculae. “There’s a tremendous level of proactivity in the U.S. military to come to the table and be a part of initiatives like these, and any input they have on this matter is welcome.”

Founded in 1963 and headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, EUROCONTROL is an intergovernmental, civil-military organization of 41 member states and two comprehensive agreement states that seeks to make aviation in Europe safer, more efficient, more cost-effective, and environmentally sustainable. EUROCONTROL activities touch on flight operations, service provision, concept development, research, Europe-wide project implementation, performance improvements, coordination with key aviation players at various levels as well as support for the future evolution and strategic orientations of aviation.