Eyes on the sky


When Sela Ahio Fonua turns up at work, she turns up to a view.

Less a view, more of a panorama - a glo­ri­ous 360° ground and skyscape that stretches from the tur­bine twirling ranges on one side, across on a clear day to Mt Ruapehu.

As Fonua un­der­took pre­lim­i­nary stud­ies to be­come a doc­tor at the Uni­ver­sity of the South Pa­cific in Nuku’alofa, noth­ing could be less ex­pected than sit­ting in the con­trol tower at Palmer­ston North Air­port call­ing the shots on air­craft move­ments.

Fonua is the new­est ad­di­tion to the air­port con­trol team. She ar­rived in Palmer­ston North in Fe­bru­ary for train­ing, liked the city and the blokes who are now her col­leagues and put up her hand to stay.

‘‘Palmer­ston North is one of the train­ing hubs for Air­ways [New Zealand’s air nav­i­ga­tion ser­vice provider], and I fin­ished off my train­ing here. I fell in love with Palmer­ston North - it was good to me, and I tried to per­suade my su­pe­ri­ors to of­fer me a po­si­tion here.’’

She has set­tled in with her three chil­dren aged 6, 4 and 2, and a 9-year-old adop­tive niece. How­ever, hubby Alan works in Auck­land and makes the long com­mute to spend time with his wife and chil­dren.

Grow­ing up in Tonga, Fonua was the third youngest of nine chil­dren. Her con­ver­sion from med­i­cal un­der­grad to air traf­fic con­troller was pure serendip­ity.

‘‘We strug­gled as a fam­ily with my par­ents try­ing to pro­vide an ed­u­ca­tion for us all. My dad’s law was you must fin­ish uni­ver­sity be­fore you go for a job.’’

How­ever, Fonua got im­pa­tient ask­ing for bus money, and ‘‘sneaked a job’’, covertly ap­ply­ing for an air­port se­cu­rity po­si­tion.

In­stead, she was em­ployed as an as­sis­tant ac­count­ing of­fi­cer, but after three months, the direc­tor of avi­a­tion, in­vited her to be­come an air traf­fic con­troller.

‘‘I was a year into my med­i­cal stud­ies, but medicine wasn’t a pas­sion, and this ca­reer that I didn’t know any­thing about, looked in­ter­est­ing.’’

Train­ing in Sin­ga­pore, Christchurch, and Tonga fol­lowed be­fore her hus­band’s job brought them to Auck­land.

But Palmer­ston North is where it’s at for the lat­est mem­ber of the lo­cal Air­ways team.

‘‘It’s a good size, just right for my young fam­ily; it has ev­ery­thing here, it’s pretty much cen­tral - and it’s much cheaper than Auck­land.’’


Sela Ahio Fonua tak­ing con­trol in the tower at Palmer­ston North Air­port.

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