Mon Ami Claude
occasionaly with Claude and his wife Dorothee in Paris for Sunday lunch, great food, abundant parking and it is free on Sundays.
In recent years, a few of Claude’s many friends asked me to write about his life experiences. I was always intrigued by stories from the time of the “Greatest Generation,” in World War II and the start of our International Operations. Many TWA pilots had already told me about their experiences during those times. And since some of their stories have previously appeared in these pages, I asked Claude to tell me the story of his life leading up to and throughout his forty-six year career with TWA. It did not come easy, but over time he was persuaded to share it with us in TARPA TOPICS. As Claude often said, “he was just a stupid little French kid who got lucky,” but he was certainly not stupid, and it took more than luck to survive and succeed as well as he did. He was born in Epinal, in the Vosges region of France and was in love with flying from an early age. He flew both sailplanes and light airplanes there in the mid-thirties before moving to Paris.
Over the years Claude made many friends in the Middle East. Owing to the many years of TWA service to the several nations there. He had friends from all the different ethnic and religious groups. He could be a real diplomat and that talent was put to the test many times. Some time ago, he shared a book with me about the hijacking of Captain C.D. Woods and crew and their subsequent ordeal after they were forced to land in the Jordanian Desert as a full blown war raged all around them. As I remember, the war was caused when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine declared war against five free nations. Yasser Arafat was their leader and they were trying to overthrow King Hussein of Jordan. Our flight 741 was the first of four aircraft forced down. Our aircraft and the others from BOAC, Pan Am and Swissair were destroyed after their passengers and crew had been evacuated. Captain Woods, First Officer James Majer and Flight Engineer Al Kiburis were held for three weeks after the passengers had been released. Al Kiburis told me later that the crew spent a lot of time hugging the ground as bullets flew. Claude’s book described the difficult negotiations that TWA top management officials and he were involved in at the time as heavy fire tore into their hotel. After retirement, Claude continued to stay active in aviation as a consultant. This was a natural step and allowed him to draw upon the unique and vast experience he had acquired throughout his forty-six years of employment with TWA. It could be said that Claude was present at the creation, starting when TWA’ first began its overseas service in 1946 until the difficult years after deregulation.
During those years, in the course of his duties, Claude had established relationships with numerous airline managers, government officials and various associations. Those relationships proved to be most helpful in his new occupation as aviation consultant. He kept busy in these endeavors for nearly ten more years until his heart began to dictate a more relaxed schedule. Claude had a pacemaker for a long time but, but in the end, even that was insufficient to help his brave heart do its job. Claude Girard was an institution, colleague and friend to all of us. He will be missed.
We asked Claude Girard’s fellow workers in Paris to offer their memories of the days working with Claude. We received many laudatory notes, but the following article, by Lucien Bigeault, a long time friend and assistant to Claude in the TWA Paris Flight Operations and Dispatch Office is truly a magnificent homage.
Claude Girard’s memorabilia
By Lucien Bigeault
In 1963 Paris Dispatch, which had been operating in Orly since 1946, was closed and its area of responsibility transferred to Shannon and Rome Dispatch offices. Its staff then manned Paris Operational Planning office in charge of the entire International Region in close coordination with MCK Operational Planning. In 1974, TWA moved from Orly to Charles de Gaulle Airport along with International Flight Operations and Paris Operational Planning housed in the TWA Services Building . All the former dispatchers that had become Managers Operational Planning were asked by Claude to maintain their FAA dispatcher’s license valid by attending annual dispatcher recurrent training in MKC.
In December 1979, following an important improvement in international communications network, the number of TWA dispatch centers became redundant, it was then decided to close the last two dispatch offices remaining overseas, Shannon and Rome Dispatch offices. Claude as Staff VP Flt Ops, was convincing enough to obtain the re-opening of a Paris Dispatch office using Paris operational Planning FAA licensed staff after a refresher dispatch training in MKC. This was the only TWA Dispatch office left overseas.
In 1983 when Paris Dispatch operating cost became too high and TWA again in difficult economical times, a new budget squeeze was forced upon Claude. He had no other solution than to reluctantly close Paris Dispatch Office again, just keeping Guy Gossez and myself as his Paris Flight Operations staff. The responsibility for overall eastbound and westbound dispatching was then transferred to JFK dispatch office.
In February 1985, TWA started B767 ETOPS operations. Claude was instrumental in
coordinating all aspects of operations over North Atlantic . The 60 minutes rule required use of enroute alternates in Greenland and Northern Canada that were not always useable due to adverse meteorological conditions or lack of ground equipment. Claude managed to get a passenger step airlifted to Sondrestromfjord so that passengers could deplane in case of diversion. TWA was a pioneer in twin-engine jet operations over North-Atlantic what is nowadays the majority of the NAT traffic.
In June 1985, Claude had to have a triple bypass surgery. Few days after the operation, he insisted to be kept advised of all aspects of airline operation. He had his JEPCO manual with him and we had to bring him weekly revisions so that he could keep his manual up to date. This happened also at the time F847/14 June 1985 a B727 was hijacked enroute from Athens to Rome to Algiers and Beirut . I was alone in charge of Paris Flt Ops office with Guy Gossez as assistant. Claude felt really frustrated to stay in hospital away from this incredible hijack. We kept him advised but he was really not pleased to be away from action. He entered back in his office when the Captain (I forgot his name) called me on phone after landing Larnaca saying everything was OK after his escape from Beirut
In 1987, considering that JFK dispatch office was not adequately manned to achieve the best possible fuel saving objectives required to reduce TWA operating cost and in view of the increase in intra-Europe flights, Claude managed to convince NYC Flt Ops Management that it would be cost effective to re-open a Dispatch office in Paris. Thanks to the re-hiring of former Shannon and Paris dispatchers, he managed to build up a new team of experienced European professionals who could efficiently handle the entire TWA international scheduled flights, many non-sked and other airlines flights. To enhance fuel saving objectives, Claude even proposed and obtained that Paris Dispatch took responsibility of Eastbound dispatching from and into U.S gateways during a six-month period. This was a daring experience that Claude managed to sell to NYC Flt Ops. However U.S dispatchers union raised serious objections as it meant that American jobs were taken over by overseas dispatchers and this trial had to be stopped. During the first Iraq war in 1992, Paris Dispatch Office, under active Claude’s involvement, dispatched Mac Flights to and from Saudi Arabia and later on MAC cargo flights via Pacific up to Honolulu where flights were taken over by Lax Dispatchers.
Claude and his Paris Flt Ops office staff represented TWA interests in such forum as IATA North-Atlantic and Europe technical groups. Being active members of these groups we also attended, as members of IATA technical delegations, ICAO regional technical meetings where all Provider States were getting together once a year to discuss with airline representatives the technical and procedural improvements required by the necessity to accommodate an always increasing number of flights in airspaces limited by political boundaries and military reserved areas. Improvements in navigation, ATC procedures, separation criteria were bitterly discussed with provider states. All improvements that north-Atlantic flights enjoy nowadays are the result of many years of hard work by active airline technical representatives such as Claude and his team along with IATA technical staff.
At the same time, Claude had managed to setup a network of friendly links with all North-Atlantic oceanic control center chiefs to better serve TWA interests in getting favorable treatment to TWA NAT flights whenever necessary. During the ICAO NAT meetings which ideally took place in Paris where ICAO headquarter is located, Claude managed to invite all oceanic centers chiefs attending that meeting, Shanwick, Santa-Maria, Reykjavik, Gander, New-York to a nice luncheon where informal discussions would often bring more benefits to TWA than formal exchanges in the plenary session. TWA was the only airline to offer this candid treatment to Oceanic Center chiefs what was not really well accepted by other airlines representatives. Anyway, that was well-spent TWA money! Even though, others considered some of his proposals controversial in the business, Claude was highly respected for his deep knowledge of what is an efficient airline operation and for his creativity in finding practical. Solutions. His determination to have his solutions put into action was also legendary. His innovative spirit greatly influenced the individuals working with him, either in Flight Operations or in Flight Dispatch Office. We went through many big storms, such as strikes, wars, hijacks, bombs, mechanical problems etc and our innovative spirit was always there to give the best possible service to our passengers as well as keeping cost down.
Claude was a very hard worker, as tough with him as he was with his employees. With him nothing was impossible, there was always a solution. When he gave you a problem to solve, better not to leave any stone unturned. All possible solutions had to be explored, checked and double-checked. But he could also be very close to his employees, concerned by their personal health or family problems. He could be a nightmare for certain colleagues in other departments as his vocabulary could become very colorful at times, to say the least, but also very friendly with, for example, those station managers he appreciated as being efficient and motivated TWAers’. He was also very much concerned by TWA crews well being during their overseas layovers. He was always working hard on selecting the best hotels as far as comfort, location, and security are concerned within the always tight TWA budgetary envelope he had to follow.
Claude lived 24 hours a day for TWA until he was 72 when he retired. Quite an exceptional achievement as until his last day in office he didn’t loose any bit of his impetus in trying to find ways to help save TWA from catastrophe. Well into his retirement he kept a keen interest in TWA affairs, closely watching with a deep sadness TWA’s downspin into bankruptcy. Claude was a great man and a great boss. I have been privileged and proud to work under his leadership for 38 years.