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.