The political plotting of an airport
Norway’s Gardermoen Airport is one of Europe’s most modern airports, but also one of the most controversial ones. Rarely has the decision about a construction project inspired such comprehensive accusations of corruption, abuse of power, and even murder. The politics behind the decision of the Norwegian parliament concerning the location of Norway’s new pride has been extensively investigated in books, TV-documentaries, news paper articles, government committees, public hearings, and an investiagative commission. A plan which culminated, in the Norwegian parliament´s reversal of its own decision, thus satisfying a long line of influential corporations and institutions in the public, the military and the private sector. At first the airport was to be located in Hurum. Four years later that decision was replaced by a new one locating the airport at Gardermoen. A decision, which puzzled a lot of people, and one which – at least on one particular day back in 1998 – had grave consequences for hundreds of airline passengers and five airlines.
The issues of flight safety and the democratically questionable political proces concerning Gardermoen Airport are excactly the reasons why we have decided to dedicate some space on this website to discuss the case.
The political planning of Gardermoen Airport began during the 1980s.
In our view Gardermoen is a:
Flight safety, democratic and ecological bankruptcy.
For decades the Norwegians had more or less been the laughing stock of most of the world due to its airports. The country’s two international airports, Fornebu and Gardermoen, were called “a air field with a cafeteria license” and a “hangar with a coffee shop” respectively. Entertaining, only if you’re not a Norwegian.
Furthermore Gardermoen was quite a way north east of the Norwegian Capital, Oslo. Fornebu Airport was very central, but almost too central, practically right in the middle of Oslo. But oddly, some of Norways most costly houses were right underneath the approaches and subject to the noise that came with them.
Something had to be done, and after some years of examinin possible locations for a new international airport Hurum was chosen. The location seemed ideal. South west of the center of Oslo, which is where most of the passengers come from. This meant that most of the international traffic wouldn’t have to fly over the city centre. At Fornebu Airport all of the arrivals and take offs passed right over the city centre. Hurum was also better located with regards to the freeways and railroads than was Gardermoen, and finally there was no existing airport at Hurum. This meant that with the enormous investments required regardless of the location Norway would actually be getting another airport if Hurum was chosen, and not just an upgrade of an existing one, if Gardermoen was chosen.
Still the parliaments decision in favor of Hurum was an unpopular one with the reigning political party, the Social Democrats, and with their leader, prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. A group of disloyal party members, who broke with Social Democratic Party’s line, secured a majority decision for Hurum instead of Gardermoen. According to many of the Norwegian reporters, who have followed the case closely for several years, there were strong forces in play, to convince the politicians to decide on Gardermoen.
On October 8th 1992, a little over four years after the parliament’s decision to place the new airport at Hurum, the paliament reversed it’s decision and chose to upgrade the existing airport at Gardermoen instead, apparently yielding to the pressure mentioned above.
According to reporter Ebbe Odding, who has produced two TV-documentaries and a book about the airport, these forces include both the Norwegian tele communications sector and the Norwegian military. Both needed and would gain from an improvemnt of the infrastructure from Oslo to Gardermoen, and should the parliament decide to place the new international airport there, then the Norwegian state would have to make the nescessary investments. These would include a new railroad, broadband etc. In his book “Gardermoen, a national fraud” Odding claims for instance that several Norwegian tele communications companies, who were owned by foreign companies, threatened to place their upcoming investments in research and development outside of Norway, unless the politicians made the right decision. A decision which would then in fact result in large extra costs for the Norwegian State, but a similar saving for those companies.
According to Odding and others it was such forces which managed to change about opinion the location of the new airport from Hurum to Gardermoen. During those four years a meterological report was ordered by the parliament. The report contained a socalled visibility assesment, which in short said Hurum was in fact an area completely unfit for an airport. This because it would only be possible to perform landings and take offs for less than 80 percent of the time during the period of January through April due to weather problems. This is also called an 80 percent regularity.
But according to the former head of the Flight Weather Service at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, Aasmund Rabbe, this is totally false. In the book by Ebbe Odding mentioned earlier, Rabbe says:
“Such poor visibility does not even exist anywhere in Norway – nor in any other country for that matter.” Even with the worst possible conditions the regulqarity at any airport is between 97 and 99 percent.
Both Aasmund Rabbe and engineer Jan Frederik Wiborg, who was a consultant in such weather examinations, stated publically that the numbers in these examinations of the weather conditions at Hurum had been tampered with. After these controversial statements both Rabbe and Wiborg suffered a harsh fate. One lost his job – the other one his life.
The one to pay the highest price was Wiborg, who in 1994 fell naked from his hotel window in the Danish capital, Copenhagen. The death was declared a suicide, and the case was closed. Not so though in the Norwegian press, which called Wiborg an “airport victim”. Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet even wrote on November 6th 1999:
”The Americans have their Kennedy assassination.
The Swedes have their Palme killing.
We have Gardermoen.”
Aasmund Rabbe was gagged and subsequently forced to resign his job. He spoke again however in the beginning of the year 2000, a little over a year after the opening of Norway’s new international airport at Gardermoen, when the Norwegian parliament’s Committee of control and constitutional matters held a series of open hearings. This entire week of TV and radio transmitted interrogation of the participants, consisted of an plan for the new airport.
The debate following the ”ruling out” of Hurum due to questionable visibility assesments had been described in a series of newspaper articles as a political process of unprecedented scandalous porportions. Other works critical of this process are:
Bakken, Holtet og Lunders: ”Magt, på Liv og Død” (Power, in Life and Death) (ISBN 82-7094-980-9) from September 5th 1998
Ebbe Odding, NRK-TV: ”The decision is Gardermoen” from September 24th 1998
Ebbe Odding, ”Brennpunkt” NRK, TV-dokumentar: ”Et beleiligt dødsfall” (A Convinient Death) from the fall of 1998
Ebbe Odding: ”Gardermoen, et nationalt bedrageri” (Gardermoen, A National Fraud) (ISBN 82-7201-283-9) from December 31st 1999
A favorable review of the process:
Dag Bredals: "Porten til Norge" (The gate to Norway)(ISBN 82-512-1719-7) from 1. june 1998
These had all gone public prior to the open hearings. The mentioning of a convinient death pertains to Norwegian engineer Jan Frederik Wiborg.
A former airline captain at Scandinavian Airlines Systems (SAS) and the founder of this website, Oluf Husted, witnessed the hearings from January 31st through February 4th 2000. His experience was this:
”All consisted of well prepared disclaimers.The former (forcibly retired) chief meteoroligist, Aasmund Rabbe was the one testimony exception. Rabbe was however backed by director of operations at Braathens Airline, Svein Solberg, who like Rabbe clearly expressed his view that Hurum would have been an “adequately accessible location.”
Oluf Husted continues:
”We, who critizice the choice of Gardermoen, claim that besides the tampering with the weather statistics, the geological examinations were also altered. After the decision to place the new airport at Gardermoen instead of Hurum, it was suddenly discovered that there was quick sand under the site of the new main runway. Thus it suddenly became necessary to place the new main runway east of the old one at Gardermoen. This however was unfortunate to say the least, as it was right on top of Norway’s largest fresh water reservoir. This means that the chemicals, which are usually used to keep runways and taxiways clear of ice, cannot be used here.”
And the fact that the runways could not be properly de-iced had grave consequences only two months after the opening of the new airport, on October 8th 1998.
On December 14th 1998 the worst serier of accidents and serious incidents in aviation history took place at exactly Gardermoen Airport. At least 20 aircraft engines from 5 different airlines were destroyed by ice. None of the pilots of the many aircraft had done the engine run-ups, which were in fact required due to the weather conditions on that particular day. This for at least one good reason: The runways were simply too slippery! Had the engines been run up, while the aircraft were still on the ground they would have simply slid off the runway or into other the aircraft taxiing in front of them. The alternative – and the outcome – was that the aircraft took off with ice in the engines. The ice was sucked into the engines and destroyed them resulting in numerous emergency landings and millions in damages.
(To read more about the engine accidents at Gardermoen Airport in article “The history of the jet engine anti-ice procedure.” – click here –)
A similar incident occured at Denver International Airport on October 31st 2002, and this sparked a seminar on the problem in Norway – in particular the strange phenomenon that it is most often the right engine, which is destroyed by ice. We at whistleblowers.dk are also taking a closer look at this phenomenon.
Following that first disasterous winter at Gardermoen environmentally toxic chemicals are now used to de-ice the taxiways despite the fresh water reservoir underneath. The water condition however is closely monitored. As it turns out Gardermoen has had freezing rain as was the case on December 14th 1998 approximately 3 times a month during the winter season since the 1950s.
As a result of the open hearings in January and Februay of 2000. A number of parliament members were so unhappy that a bill was subsequently passed:
2000-06-16 no. 42 concerning a ”Investigative Committee” headed by: Prof. Eivind Smidt of Oslo University.
Oluf Husted had been heavily involved in the process concerning the new airport and was therefore also questioned by Henning Harborg and Eivind Smidt for the purpose of the committee’s investigations. This took place on August 14th and 15th 2000 during two one hour long sessions:
“I told them my views on the location and useability of Gardermoen and especially about the role of Viggo Loefsgaard the former chief of flight operations at SAS and a member of the “Hafnor committee”, in the entire political planing of Gardermoen,” Oluf Husted recalls.
The Hafnor Committee was set up to investigate the report, which had declared Hurum unfit as a location for an airport. As previously mentioned this was after the Parliament’s decision to place the new airport there. According to Ebbe Odding the committee was a collection of hand picked people, who in actual fact only had to "approve" the forged meteorological statistics.
Loefsgaard by the way later became director of Inspections at the Norwegian Aviation Authorities. He is now a senior consultant there.
Oluf Husted continues:
”It was mainly about Loefsgaard’s knowledge of the SAS’ requests for better engine anti-icing procedures from the manufacturers during 1989-1990. The requests came as a consequence of extraordinalily large expenditures on new titanium fan blades on the DC-9s and the MD-80s, because many of them were destroyed by ice. Loefsgaard had to know that a location like Gardermoen with freezing rain and the most slippery taxiways and runways in all of Norway, because they could not be de-iced with chemicals, was a dangerous cocktail.”
Oluf Husted’s part in the commission’s work is registered in it’s report from April 4th 2001:
Document #18 (2000-2001), page 256.
The conclusions can be read at: www.stortinget.no
Just prior to the publication of the Investigative Commission’s report another book concerning the political planning of the airport case was released:
Ronald Bye og Finn Sjue: ”Post Festum Gardermoen” (ISBN: 82-7147-212-7) February 28th 2001
Prior to the release of Bye and Sjue’s book new revelations were promised to come about concerning the scheme of Gardermoen, however the book turned out to be nothing but a rather harmless collection of case files.
The day after the release of the book, Professor Eivind Smidt turned over the conclusions of his investigative report to the parliament. And like the book the report contains practically no critique of the process concerning the decision of Gardermoen as the location for Norway’s new international airport. Instead the report concludes that the press has contributed to:
“Creating or uncritically communicating an impression of illegal methods in the airport case, which has no basis in the facts of the case.”
This bears a striking resemblance to the arrogance demonstrated by SAS on several occasions with regards to the press. For instance in the SAS’ annual report 2001 (p. 108), where it is stated that:
“During 2001 SAS has been the subject of intense surveilance by the Scandinavian press. The subject was primarily suspicions of a disregard for flight safety. The information communicated had no basis in reality.”
One might think that this is their standard way of meeting bad publicity:
"Drag your feet, bury those who complain in documents,
and blame the press for being sloppy"