Tongan air traffic controller’s career is up in the air after leaving university

    University study didn’t work out for Sela Ahio Fonua, but she is literally up in the air over the way her career has developed.

    She began studying for a medical degree at the University of the South Pacific’s Tongan campus, but now plays a vital role in keeping New Zealand’s air traffic flowing safely.

    “I was a year into my medical studies, but medicine wasn’t a passion, and this career that I didn’t know about looked interesting,” she told the Manawatu Standard.

    Instead, she got a job as an accounting officer and after three months was asked to train as an air traffic controller.

    Fonua is now working as an aerodrome/tower controller.

    Air traffic controllers keep aircraft separated from each other – both in the air and on the ground.

    Fonua trained in Singapore, Christchurch, and Tonga and then moved to Auckland when her husband was posted there.

    She was posted to Palmerston North in February to complete her training with Airways, which provides air traffic control in New Zealand.

    While Fonua has carved her own path in the sky, other members of her family have followed a more traditional academic route.

    Her mother ‘Alilia ‘Ahio was a primary school teacher and her father Titali ‘Ahio was one of very few students in their village of Houma to pass the New Zealand School Certificate in the 1970s.

    Her oldest sister Melolini holds an MA in accounting and is a research student at AUT, investigating how accounting standards affects the quality of financial reporting in Tonga. She works as a manager at the University of Auckland.

    Her brother Stan has a scholarship from the New Zealand government to study a Bachelor of Engineering Honours in Electrical and Electronics at AUT.

    Careers in air control

    People interested in becoming air traffic controllers can apply online with New Zealand air traffic control provider Airways.

    Successful applicants undertake a year’s training.

    The first six months is intensive, using simulators to apply theory. Students then relocate for on-the-job training in one of Airway’s regional towers.

    The main points

    • University study didn’t work out for Sela Ahio Fonua, but she is literally up in the air over the way her career has developed.
    • She began studying for a medical degree, but decided it wasn’t for her.
    • Instead, she became an air traffic controller.
    • People interested in becoming air traffic controllers can apply online with Airways.

    For more information

    Airways

    Unexpected career from medical student to Palmerston North air controller

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