The women of the JCAA

The women of the JCAA

Navigating the future of Jamaican aviation

Sunday, February 09, 2020

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ON Tuesday, February 11, Jamaica will join the international community in celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science (IDWGS).

The commemorative day, which was introduced in 2015 by the United Nations, recognises the critical role women and girls play in science and technology. It also promotes increased involvement of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industries to create gender parity in a sector that remains largely male-dominated.

In recognition of this special day, Jamaica Observer has chosen to highlight a group of women who have been raising standards and breaking glass ceilings within Jamaica's aviation industry, as members of the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA).

A statutory body of the Ministry of Transport and Mining, the JCAA is mandated with regulating Jamaica's air transport industry to ensure its safe and orderly operation and development, and providing critical air navigations services to ensure a safe, reliable, and sustainable air transport system that consistently performs to established international standards.

Statistics show that women account for only seven per cent of the massive global aviation industry. However, despite this fact, women account for half of the members of the JCAA and occupy critical roles at every level of organisation.

The exemplary women featured today have achieved excellence in varying areas of the JCAA's work including aviation inspection, corporate services, air traffic control, statistics and aeronautical information management (AIM).

Nichole Morgan – Deputy Director General, Corporate Services

As deputy director general for corporate services, Morgan is the most senior ranking woman at the JCAA, and the first woman to serve within the organsation's executive management.

She joined the JCAA in 2009 as director of human resources, having previously worked with the former national airline, Air Jamaica. Within five years, she became the first woman promoted to act at the level of deputy director general and assumed responsibility for administration and services. By 2014 Morgan was fully appointed in the role, where she has oversight for human resource development, information technology, property management, procurement, corporate communications, corporate planning, and risk and the JCAA's Civil Aviation Authority Training Institute.

How has your experience been as a woman working in a male-dominated industry?

“There are really only a few times that I'm reminded of being female in the line of duty. When you have a job to do, you simply get it done. I've always had a focused personality when it comes to my work, so I don't place too much emphasis on the fact that I'm female.

What would you say to young women who want to enter aviation?

“There is a notion that women don't like STEM, and that is being proven to be untrue. Women keep on breaking the glass ceiling as pilots, engineers, mathematicians, and statisticians. I am proud to have attended Westwood High, as it gave girls a brilliant foundation in all subject areas, while developing their leadership qualities. I want women to know that there is a whole wide world out there, waiting for your brilliance, initiatives, and creativity. You do not have to stick to traditional career paths, and aviation remains an excellent career choice, as it truly offers a whole new world of possibilities.”

Additionally, while five standard-bearers are featured, the women in the JCAA have continued to demonstrate that gender is not a predictor of performance. As examples, the Director of Finance, the Director of Risk and Managers in Economic Regulation are all females with strong STEM backgrounds. It is important to use this medium to uplift and encourage, not only women, but all readers in their quest for advancement and success. Each of us has a duty to uplift others and this duty must be taken seriously.

What is the most rewarding part of your work at the JCAA?

“Aviation is a dynamic environment. The JCAA, as the industry regulator and provider of air navigation services, offers such a wide range of career possibilities and an environment where you will be consistently stimulated and challenged. Enrichment is found in a number of value-building activities, including the way the team collaborates when solving problems or developing new initiatives. My work at the JCAA has, therefore, been exceptionally rewarding. I also get great joy from serving at such an impactful level and having the opportunity to contribute to the success of the organisation.”

Captain Michele Yap – Aviation Inspector (Operations)

Captain Michelle Yap is one of Jamaica's, and possibly, the Caribbean region's most accomplished woman pilots. Her legacy among the field of Jamaican aviation pioneers was entrenched, when she became the first woman airline captain in the Caribbean, flying the Leeward Islands Air Transport's Twin Otter in 1988. Just one year later, she also became the first to pilot an all-woman crew in the Anglo-Caribbean.

Captain Yap has dedicated her entire life to excellence in aviation, having chosen to enter flight school directly following her high school graduation. After gaining her private pilot licence, she was offered a place at the New York Institute of Technology but opted to return to Jamaica and continue flying, eventually becoming an instructor.

Throughout her impressive career, Michele Yap mastered all pilot levels, starting out as a co-pilot with the regional airline LIAT, then moving to Air Jamaica, where she flew the Airbus A300, 310, 340, and 320 models. During this time, she transitioned from regional flying to trans-Atlantic routes. After a long and fruitful career as a pilot, she joined the JCAA to help provide industry oversight.

How has your experience been as a woman working in a male-dominated industry?

“I have always worked with men and I don't believe that I need special treatment because I am a woman. I have all the training I need to do my job and I believe that is sufficient. Also, I have a no-nonsense nature, when it comes to my work.”

What would you say to young women who want to enter aviation?

“Anything you do should reflect the best of your ability. It's a great feeling to accomplish something based on your hard work. Remain on the straight and narrow and your work will speak for itself. Do what you have to do and what is yours will come to you. I am living proof of that.

How was the transition from a pilot to a regulator?

“Being at the JCAA has taught me how the different areas come together on the regulatory side, such as the full processes for gaining pilot licences and the certification of airlines. It has been an incredible experience from that point of view. I had no idea how much was involved in getting licenses approved, particularly the administrative involvement. It has given me a more wholesome view of aviation.”

What is the most rewarding part of your work at the JCAA

“When I came on board, my motivation was to give back. I successfully climbed to the highest level of civil aviation transport and I have gone through the entire spectrum. In fulfilling this hope of giving back, I intend to support the growth and safety of the local aviation industry, as much as I am able to.”

Althea Roper - Manager, Aviation Statistics, Airfares & Rates in the Economic Regulation Department

Althea Roper is a respected statistician, with over 23 years of experience in the field of aviation. In her current role, she oversees the creation of data on passenger, aircraft freight and cargo movement, as well as Jamaica's reporting of statistics to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). ICAO reporting facilitates data-driven decision-making.

Six years ago, she entered the realm of environmental protection where, in addition to her statistical responsibilities, she now tackles the connections between aviation and the environment. Her work includes examining the impact of aviation on the environment, as well as how the aviation industry can adjust to lessen carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and other impacts on the environment.

How has your experience been as a woman working in a male-dominated industry?

“Sometimes challenging, but as long as you have the confidence and what it takes to break barriers you will succeed. The UN's Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 5 focuses on general equality for women and girls. Internationally women make up only seven per cent of aviation, so there must be a thrust to encourage more women to come on board.”

What would you say to young women who want to enter aviation?

“Begin nurturing your interest from early, even at the secondary level. The career fields in aviation are many and are equally rewarding. If a young woman or man seeks to enter this industry, the experience will be mutually fulfilling for both the individual and the industry, given the industry's highly innovative and developmental nature.”

What is the most rewarding part of your work at the JCAA?

“In 2018, the ICAO carried out a pilot project in Jamaica to install renewable power sources for aircraft parked at airport gates at the Norman Manley and Donald Sangster international airports. The project involved the installation of gate electrification equipment, along with a solar power generation facility. I was a major part of implementing that project on the Jamaican side and it was very rewarding to see that initiative come to fruition. Jamaica's air transport industry is now 'greener' because of projects like these.”

Linette Foster Hall – Air Traffic Controller (Supervisor)

Linette Foster Hall joined the JCAA in 1987 as an assistant air traffic controller after completing a basic course in flight planning and assessment. By 1994, Foster Hall qualified as an enroute controller and subsequently became a member of the first JCAA group who went to Canada for training to use the radar technologies implemented in approach and enroute air traffic control.

Thirty-two years later, she is sharing her wealth of information with younger generations of air traffic controllers, as a senior controller and instructor at the JCAA.

How has your experience been as a woman working in a male-dominated industry?

“I am not intimidated. With all my experience on the job, I can say confidently that a woman can do this job just as well as the men or even better. I have trained several men, so I have no reason to feel intimidated.”

What would you say to young women who want to enter aviation?

“You have to be focused and professional in everything you do. You have to maintain that standard at all times. All the women here have high standards that we maintain at all times.”

“It is important to be aware of everything around you, as, in aviation, distractions and inadequate focus can be dangerous. If the traffic volume rises to a certain level, you have to also rise to that level, because the job demands it. It is a taxing and stressful job, but it is equally rewarding.”

What is the most rewarding part of your work at the JCAA?

“My greatest reward is looking at my screen, seeing 10 to 20 aircraft and managing to get all of them on the ground safely. I remember one day, the airport was extremely busy and after a difficult shift, a pilot complimented me for impressive controlling. It is great to know that one's hard work does not go unnoticed. I hope the next generation will maintain that standard.

Sharon Edwards-Francis - Aeronautical Information Management (AIM) Manager

Sharon Edwards Francis started at the JCAA in 1998 as an Aeronautical Informations Systems (AIS) assistant in what was then an emerging area of the organisation's work. She later became an AIS Officer, after being among the first batch of students to be trained in the area.

Now occupying a position at the managerial level, Edwards Francis plays a critical role in the JCAA's ongoing transition from the paper-based AIS, to an automated Aeronautical Information Management (AIM) system. She now manages the Publications Unit and the Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) Unit at the JCAA. She also oversees the production and dissemination of key information to members of the local and international aviation community including pilots, air traffic control, aerodrome operators, airlines, and even the security forces.

How has your experience been as a woman working in a male-dominated industry?

“It has been exciting. As a result of my personality, I may not have observed any challenges specific to my being a woman. The men here have no problem with women rising up through the ranks.”

What would you say to young women who want to enter aviation?

“For a woman thinking to work specifically in AIM, knowledge of geography is essential. A more general piece of advice to women coming into this industry is that you have to submerge yourself in the discipline, believe it and become it, in order to grasp it and perform your functions efficiently. Also, when I work, I give my best, as I am working unto God. Never forget to let your light shine.”

What is the most rewarding part of your work at the JCAA?

“Coming up through the ranks from assistant to manager has been remarkable. It has allowed me to learn the full gamut of information in my department. Being a part of the AIM transition and seeing it come to fruition has been deeply rewarding. I must also note that I work with a great team of individuals. They are highly motivated and ready to take on the ongoing transition.”

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