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Airways wants more Māori to become air traffic controllers

Today marks the 62nd International Day of the Air Traffic Controller and Airways New Zealand is pushing to see more Māori in the industry.

Ngāti Rakaipaaka descendant Mal McGrath has been an air traffic controller and he says Māori are encouraged to apply.

“The wish of Airways is to see more Māori enter the industry, and this kind of work,” McGrath says.

Along with encouraging more Māori to enter the field, Airways has developed a website which encourages both pilots and air traffic controllers alike to correctly pronounce Māori place names throughout the country.

The website Whakatere is open to the public but also holds a special place in McGrath’s heart as he recalls an instance when working in the Manawatū region.

“When I was working at Ohakea tower, there is a little town called Ōhingaiti, and every week I would instruct the pilots to arrive via Ōhingaiti, and at first they would be silent, then I was met with ‘Roger, tracking via Ohhingatee, Ohhingate.’ So Whakatere for us is a very important tool.” he says.

New tech provides best training

Acting general manager air traffic services James Evans has many years of experience in the field and, with the new technology available, is preparing the next generation for all circumstances that may arise in their career.

“Here we have Hamilton and we can replicate any of our 19 airfields around the country. So what that allows us to do is create situations that a controller might experience. In the environment we can simulate emergencies, should an aircraft have an engine failure or any issues like that,” he says.

Air traffic controllers are trained to ensure the safety of an aircraft’s movements, departure, flight and landing. To apply to train they need to have at least NCEA- approved Level Two in maths, and to have passed NCEA level 2.

Although technology has surpassed that of the past, Evans fondly recalls his training days.

“When I controlled back in the 1990′s we had nothing like this. We had sewing machine motors with wires, and my colleagues on my course would hang aircraft on the wires and they would go around the runway on the ground. But now, through the use of technology, we have a very high-resolution environment.”

Although some emergencies may never occur in a career, they stay alert and ready for whatever may happen.

“Out in the real-life environment a controller may never see snow or bad thunderstorms come through for years but here we can test that in the simulated environment.”

Looking for enthusiasts

Air traffic control is not the most well-known role in the aviation industry. Evans says it is the characteristics of the person which helps them thrive.

“We are looking for enthusiastic people, - you don’t need to know anything about flying. A lot of our people come here with zero flying background, and they’re some of our best controllers.”

It is one of those unknown professions. A lot of people don’t know what we do, so I would say ‘look into it’.”