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!