When one thinks of women in aviation, careers such as pilots, flight attendants or reservation agents usually come to mind. However, in Barbados, there are 20 females in the male-dominated field of Air Traffic Control.
Two of the 20 females working at the Civil Aviation Department as Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) are Rashiba Roberts-Crawford, who has 15 years of service, the last four as an Air Traffic Control Supervisor, and Visual Flight Rules (VFR) rated, Paula V. Alleyne, who will celebrate six years with the Department in June this year.
Both ladies noted that, initially, their interest in aviation was not piqued by any intrinsic love for aircraft or the aviation sector, but by persons working at the Civil Aviation Department.
Roberts-Crawford shared how she started. “I was first introduced to the field, having completed my university education, by a former female air traffic controller, who advised me that there were vacancies within the department and she urged me to apply as it would have been a good opportunity.”
In explaining how she got into the field, Mrs. Alleyne stated: “I was searching for a job. I needed to change jobs, and it was basically a recommendation through my mom to apply. So, I was like air traffic control… I know nothing about this, but upon researching it, I was like ‘ooh, it looks like a very advanced technologically dynamic environment.’ That is what really piqued my interest about it, so I tried my luck.”
To become an Air Traffic Controller, one must possess five CXCs at general proficiency level. English Language is a requirement, plus either mathematics or physics. Having met those basic requirements, applicants are required to do an examination which includes questions on those subjects. Once shortlisted, applicants undergo an interview and psychometric testing, which assesses personality traits and intellectual capabilities, as well as a person’s ability to cope and operate in stressful situations.
Applicants also go through a series of testing, which determines if their vision is adequate for the aviation environment. If there is a specific limitation, it would be noted on the licence.
Having successfully navigated that process, recruits then undergo job-specific training both in theory and simulation and this is carried out at the Barbados Civil Aviation Training Centre over two years, if done continuously. Persons are trained in three areas: Aeronautical Information Service, Terminal Control Unit, and the Air Drone Control Tower.
Once persons have completed their training, they then undergo on-the-job training at the air site, where they are paired with an instructor for a couple of months. The checkout process follows. If successful, the applicant becomes a rated controller with an Air Traffic Services licence.
There are two levels to being a rated controller. With a VFR rating, individuals are only allowed to work in the Aerodrome Control Tower (ACT). With the Instrument rating, individuals are required to work in the Terminal Control Unit. ATCs undergo refresher training every year.
Roberts-Crawford disclosed it was during her training that she developed a love for the job, to the extent that, “I would return home on evenings from training and record myself and listen to the recordings issuing landing and takeoff terms.”
Regarding what ATC duties and responsibilities involve, both ladies recited what is known as the air traffic mantra, which is to provide a safe, orderly, expeditious, economical air navigation service. More specifically, the day-to-day functions include preventing collisions between aircraft in the air and aircraft on the ground.
The functions also involve coordinating between the service vehicles which operate on the ramp, and providing aircraft with pertinent flight information, in terms of weather conditions, essential traffic, and any other hazard or caution that may be necessary. ATCs are also responsible for coordinating alerting services if there is an incident, or aircraft emergency, or some heightened awareness issue.
Roberts-Crawford outlined her role as a supervisor. “I am responsible for ensuring that the procedures are adequately applied and that any breaches of procedure are reported in a timely fashion. I am also tasked with monitoring and assessing the officers’ performance to ensure that there are seamless operations in consultation with the Air Traffic Service (ATS) management team,” she explained.
As a rated VFR ATC, Alleyne said her job functions are in the control tower, which is a visual environment. “Therefore, air traffic acts and activities in the vicinity of the aerodrome are my responsibility. That would include ensuring there’s no conflict between aircraft in the air or on the ground, as well as between aircraft and vehicles needing to operate on the taxiways and runways,” she stated.
When asked what they love about the job, Roberts-Crawford responded: “I love the flexibility of the shift system and the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day, because some shifts are not easy. I also love the camaraderie, and that is fostered by the teamwork environment that is necessary for air traffic. I also love the nuances of the ATS jargon and love to hear the language.”
She noted that ATS jargon/phraseology is standardised and unique to the aviation sector, so that pilots are not confused, don’t misconstrue information, and assist in minimising errors.
Alleyne, however, said she didn’t like the shift system as a mom and church person because it sometimes hampers her from participating in family or church events and can take a toll on her rest and recuperation.
She added that she loves the view from the tower and that it is a practical job. She continued: “And it really is about applying procedures correctly, having the ability to think critically and then communicate and implement a plan effectively. Most days it is dynamic, you always hear no two situations are the same. It is not monotonous or boring.”
Both ladies concurred that the most stressful part of their job is operating in an environment in which errors can have some devastating consequences, so one must give 100 per cent every time. Some days, they said, can be extremely taxing, particularly when it is really busy with many arrivals and departures. Controllers are required to remain alert and composed and exhibit a high level of control and concentration.
Both Roberts-Crawford and Alleyne stated they would encourage other females to venture into the aviation industry and to do some research about the field locally, regionally and internationally. According to them, the aviation industry is an expansive field with several lucrative opportunities outside of air traffic control. Being an ATC within Barbados is a good opportunity to become a part of the aviation sector.
As this sector continues to build out in Barbados over time, more opportunities will arise, which would make the industry more attractive to younger persons.