Over the past few years there has been a steady increase in the number of female Air Traffic Controllers in Jamaica, with women currently outnumbering men at the Sangster International Airport Tower, in Montego Bay.
One of the women, Shanique Malcolm, tells JIS News that she has been an Air Traffic Controller since October 2013.
Miss Malcolm says although she was trained in International Relations, she decided to try something different, noting that her training in languages has proven to be advantageous in the field.
She explains that air traffic control is really about monitoring aircraft to ensure that they are at a safe distance from each other to avoid collisions, whether on the ground or in the air.
Malcolm points out that the training was intense and extremely truncated, as it is aimed at getting Air Traffic Controllers to a point where they have full responsibility for guiding an aircraft safely from one point to another.
Although hearing it, she says that she has never given much thought to the idea of air traffic control being a man’s world.
“I think I’m fortunate enough to be living in a time where women had already broken the mould, so I am just following in their footsteps. For instance, here at the Sangster Tower there is a majority of women, but I don’t feel a sharp distinction if my co-worker is male or female,” she says.
“Although the aviation field has been male dominated, females have done well and asserted themselves, similar to female pilots, for example. I think it is just traditional roles changing,” she adds.
For Allison McIntosh, her three years as an Air Traffic Controller has been very enjoyable.
“I did not know that I would have so much passion for air traffic and it grows every day. No two days are the same and something as simple as rain can make things very different. It keeps you on your toes and you have to focus and ensure that even if you turn your head away, you know what is going on and you have to keep a listening ear at all times to know where an aircraft is,” she says.
McIntosh said that discipline is an important characteristic of an Air Traffic Controller.
“You also have to be a good listener, because you have persons who are coming from different countries with different languages or accents, so you have to be able to pick up what they are saying,” she points out, adding that when the weather is bad there is more static in the lines, “so you also have to pay keen attention.”
McIntosh says Air Traffic Controllers must be alert and have an awareness of what is happening around them, as things can happen outside of the norm and they have to be equipped to deal with them.
“You need to have a passion for it, because that is what is going to cause you to go the extra mile and read up on the different types of aircraft and how they perform. You will also be required to go above and beyond what you are expected to do and you have to be willing. We are not only working with aircraft that are coming in and landing, we are also working with persons who have been diverted here,” she tells JIS News.
Deidre Shaw, who has been an Air Traffic Controller for four years, says a Controller must be able to think quickly on his or her feet and should always have more than one solution to a problem.
She says the ability to multitask is a must, while pointing out that the Controller is not only responsible for the aircraft in the air, but also the aircraft on the ground and the persons who are working in the airfield.
“They all use different radio frequencies and if you are the only person working at the time, you should be able to hear everybody,” she adds. Former Chief Air Traffic Controller at the Sangster Tower, Karen Green, who was recently promoted to Flight Safety Inspector, explains that as Chief, she had responsibility for managing the air traffic unit at the airport.
She supervised the air traffic control staff, ensuring that air traffic services are being provided in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Green says she came up through the ranks. She was first an Aerodrome Approach Procedural Controller (airport based), then went to the Kingston Air Traffic Control Centre and became Approach Radar Controller. She eventually returned to Montego Bay for a few years before being promoted to Chief. She has been a 24-year veteran.
She says that although Sangster Airport is busier than Norman Manley International Airport, it was not overwhelming to manage the tower and its staff.
Her foray into air traffic control was purely accidental as she was a registered nurse who had come to a crossroads in her life. She was told about the field by a friend and it piqued her interest. Within two weeks of that conversation there was an opening for which she applied and was successful.
She is encouraging young people to consider the profession as one that will be worthwhile and fulfilling.
“If you like challenges and think you can handle stress, work with a team and think quickly, be decisive and be confident, then try air traffic control. You’ll do well,” said Green