Tribute to Louis Pailhas

It is with regret that our colleague Louis Pailhas, passed away on February 4, 2021 at the age of 94.

Below is the tribute paid by Dominique Colin de Verdière during the solemn session of the academy held at a distance on Monday, March 29, 2021.


“I was welcomed twice by Louis Pailhas director of the National School of Civil Aviation (ENAC) in 1970 as a student, then in 73 as a teacher. During these years I have been able to measure his qualities and it is an honour for me to pay this tribute.


In this tribute I take many elements of his daughter Claire, uttered at his funeral in Muret.

Louis Pailhas was born in 1926 in Foix, he left on February 4, 2021 at the age of 94.

His parents were teachers. He was 5 years old when his father died from a pulmonary burn from toxic gases breathed into a shell hole during the 14-18 war.

His schooling took place according to his mother’s transfers to Toulouse, where he joined Fermat High School for his secondary school and he actively participated in Scouting.

The Scout chaplain recruited him at the end of 42, at the age of 16 and a half, in the Resistance where he was a liaison officer. In June 44, he joined the Corps Franc Pommiès, a resistance network in southwestern France, created by soldiers loyal to General de Gaulle. Within the Miler Brigade, he went back to the north-east of France and took part in the Battle of Autun in October.

Out of modesty, he did not talk about this period of his life that I discovered during the last visit I made to him 5 years ago.


After resuming his studies in maths at Fermat High School in Toulouse and mathsped at the Louis le Grand High School in Paris, he was received in 1946 at the Ecole Polytechnique and then he did his military service in the Air Force. He graduated from the X in the Air Navigation Engineers Corps and entered ENAC’s 2nd promotion in 1949. His choice of aviation was driven by the exploits of aviation pioneers, whose names will be given to ENAC residences: Blériot, Ader, Védrines, Hélène Boucher and the Costes and Bellonte amphitheatres

Upon leaving ENAC, he obtained the pilot’s licence as a professional pilot of the technical corps – and he flew until 1980, having flown 1,500 hours. In 1953, he moved to Morocco as head of the air navigation service, then in charge of mission with the Resident General.

In 1956 he returned to France as head of the airport management office of the General Secretariat of Civil Aviation, forerunner of the DGAC. From 1959 to 1965, he was head of the northern regional control centre that had just opened in Athis-Mons, where he discovered social relations with the controllers’ unions.

In 1965, he began the milestone of his professional career and was appointed deputy director of ENAC, responsible for the transfer of the school to Toulouse. He must overcome the reluctance of staff in the face of a transfer to Toulouse, find teachers on site and manage vacataires from Paris by Air Inter. Construction of the school began in April 1966 and teaching began there in the beginning of 1968 with 500 students. A remarkable success!

He will remain at ENAC for 14 years as Director. ENAC receives more and more French-speaking foreign students, but not only, since in 1978 there was a promotion of Chinese controllers. He often receives these foreign students in his office house on the site where they are warmly welcomed and many will keep friends with him.

In January 1982, at the request of Claude Abraham (DGAC), he was transferred to Paris as Director of Air Navigation where he remained for 7 years. It set up the Air Navigation Annex Budget (BANA), which would break the limits of the state budget and rely on Air Navigation service charges. The NAOA allowed the start of a number of projects that were delayed due to lack of budget. Once again, he had to confront the particular management of air traffic controllers, struggling to obtain a minimum service during air traffic controller strikes, which could paralyze all air traffic. In 1988 he agreed to the creation of an antenna of the Centre for The Study of Air Navigation on the ENAC site – to strengthen research there.

He left this position in 1988 and ended his career at the General Inspectorate of Civil Aviation. He will chair the commission of inquiry into the UTA DC10 accident; he will spend about ten days in Chad and Niger, in the Ténéré desert, by 50 degrees, to reconstruct the puzzle of the plane exploded in flight because of a bomb placed in the hold. He will then turn his technical conclusions to Judge Bruguière in charge of the investigation into this terrorist attack. As a result, it is working to strengthen baggage security checks at all airports, measures adopted by ICAO.

In October 1990, he retired but, from 89, Dominique Baudis, then mayor of Toulouse, offered to join the municipal council where he was a municipal councillor, in charge of the university, aeronautics and space division, and then deputy mayor from 95 until 2001. He also inherits the architectural pole. He was actively involved in the construction of the City of Space, a project that particularly enthused him. In these years, Toulouse will inaugurate several important buildings such as the cinematheque of Rue du Taur, the National Theatre of Toulouse, the Zenith, the Museum of the Abattoirs. He loved all the exchanges he had during that period.

From 2002 to 2004, he led an environmental advisory commission for the Toulouse-Lasbordes airfield and managed to bring together the views of local residents, aeroclubs and flight schools.

He did not have a career plan, he accepted the positions offered to him and exercised them with talent and success despite the difficulties. But ENAC remained for him the most important period of his life.

He was a beautiful light to many of us, he was a hard worker, carefully rereading all the texts submitted to him. His collaborators have always enjoyed working with him and have often become his friends.

His father, on his deathbed, said, speaking of his elderly son Louis 5 years old: “I wish the boy was fine” These last words reported by his mother may have forged his whole life and he has largely honored that wish and beyond. Louis Pailhas radiated humanism until his last breath.

Louis Pailhas was a member of our Academy in Section 2 since 1984, wish him a good flight.”

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