The story of Alpha Mike

On 11-01-2011, in Women in ATC, by arminda

It was in summer of 1971 when I started training for air traffic control at the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) Air Academy in Manila, Philippines. Actually, it was only the fourth time since 1957 that they accepted women in ATC training classes, the last one being in 1963. All those years, only 11 women graduated and were hired. Our training class started out with about 67 trainees, divided into 2 sections of 30 or more trainees in a class, but only 34 graduated; the others did not survive the dreaded washout, meaning they had failed in some final exams in 3 subjects. In April of 1972, we were hired and received our facility assignment, but the three of us (women who graduated) did not get to be assigned in any of the three ATC facilities i.e. Tower, Approach or Area Control Center (ACC) also known as Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC), an FAA term.

I was a bit depressed because I was hoping that our assignment would be in ATC facilities. I knew my father wasn’t excited about the assignment either because he also wanted me to become an air traffic controller (ATC), being a former ATC himself. As a matter of fact, my father was among the pioneers in air traffic control in the Philippines. He and six others were the first Filipinos to be trained by the U.S. FAA in 1948. During the early postwar years, the U.S. FAA was in charge of the technical phase of ATC operations for the Philippine government. My father and their group formed the nucleus of the ATC section which was later transferred to the Philippine government in 1951. I guess I was not meant to follow his footsteps.

I was first assigned as airways communicator in the Aeronautical Fixed Service unit, then transferred to the Aeronautical Mobile Service unit, where I worked for 8 years. I came to know that one of my female classmates tried to request for transfer to Manila Tower, but was not accommodated for some reasons, no vacant items, blah, blah, blah. Well, I told myself, if they don’t like women ATCs anymore fine with me, anyway my mother is happy because I wont be working in some far away island in the Philippines like Mindanao had I been a teacher there. Though I was not assigned as an ATC, I took the exam for ATC license, anyway, I was qualified, so I might as well get it for my self satisfaction. I passed, was granted an ATC license, and I also took the Civil Service Exam for ATCs which I was able to hurdle as well, and obtained my civil service eligibility. Nonetheless, I never did dare to request for transfer to any ATC unit, in all those years I was working as a communicator, despite my qualifications. I told myself, someday, they (ATC units) will ask for me to work for them (maybe, in my dreams…

Then it came.. In 1980, there was an exodus of Filipino air traffic controllers to the Middle East seeking greener pastures, so they say. They would not be working as sector controllers there, but only assistant controllers, however, the pay is ten times more than the salary they were receiving then as ATCs and these were all rated or certified ATCs for that matter. There was nothing the government could do to stop the exodus because they cannot give a better offer or alternative. Their only option was to train more ATCs and get them certified at the soonest time, or get some people, though a few, working in communications units who had ATC licenses ready… like me for instance. My plans, my dreams fell into place and I was transferred to the Manila Area Control Center in 1981.

It was my day of triumph, my father was happy and proud too, but I’m sure he would have been much prouder, had he been alive in 1997 when I became the first woman chief air traffic controller of an Area Control Center (the Manila ACC) in the Philippines. This part of my life is another story, maybe next time. Alpha Mike is leaving your frequency, Good day!

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  1. RomeoBravo says:

    Great and inspiring story.

  2. steve says:

    We would really like to have other lady controllers (or pilots for that matter) tell us their story. Feel free to contact Roger-Wilco and we will be glad to publish those stories also. KNowing how your dreams were realized isnpire us all!

  3. BS50 says:

    I would certainly love to read more about the subject!

  4. Wayne Farley says:

    Great story indeed. ATC is such a fulfilling career. Congrats to all the ladies who have successfully made ATC their careers.

  5. Arminda says:

    Thank you Mr. Farley for appreciating my story . Its an honor coming from you as I just came to know you also have an aviation weblog yourself. Good luck, all the best.

  6. papa_xray says:

    very inspiring story.. keep them coming please.

  7. cheche says:

    maam—very inspiring!!!! and you didnt mention, you became the first ATC woman chief of manila Area Control Center!

  8. Arminda says:

    Thanks for the comment Cheche. Do you know that even my sister was surprised and said she wouldn’t have known I was the first Manila ACC woman chief had she not read it in this article.

  9. steve says:

    We have just received some leads for finding out more about women air traffic cotnrollers in the US in the 40s. I will certainly follow these up but if any of you have additional information, please share it with us so that we may cover the subject in full.

  10. […] days seems to have struck a chord in several parts of the world. First there was Aminda’s lovely contribution from the Philippines then Evon Russel contacted me on Facebook with a link to an article at the […]

  11. […] continue with my story, let me just go back to that time when, in 1981, I received an Order transferring me to the Manila […]

  12. Great post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed!
    Very helpful information specially the last
    part 🙂 I care for such info a lot. I was seeking this particular info for a long
    time. Thank you and good luck.

  13. Arminda says:

    Thank you for your comment. I wrote this story in 2011 and it’s nice to know that you’ve read it and found some useful information, I really appreciate it.

  14. oil remover says:

    Good day! This post couldn’t be written any better!
    Reading this post reminds me of my old room mate!

    He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this post to
    him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

    There isn’t a particular oil remover that is right.
    Determine the things that work most effective for you.

  15. Arminda says:

    Thank you for your comment, hope your room mate would enjoy reading them (there are two parts in this story) as well.

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