For the first time in Jamaica's history, two women are in control of air traffic at the island's two international airports.
Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
Karen Green, based at Sangster International Airport, is a Montegonian who grew up in the volatile Glendevon community.
However, like most determined and ambitious Jamaican women, Green never once allowed her address to retard her growth. Her mantra, she says, was "education, education, education".
"I am a go-getter, I believe that education is the vehicle through which you can change your status from being poor to not being poor," states the former Herbert Morrison High graduate.
The affable Green, who donned colours depicting her name for her Flair interview, had no need to declare the importance of higher learning, as this was evident from her profile. Having just attained an MBA from the University of the West Indies, Mona, Western Jamaica Campus, Green already holds a Bachelor of Science from Nova University and is qualified as a registered nurse.
"I am not done yet," she boasted confidently, ready to take on the next challenge.
When Green left nursing after only a year in the profession to join the island's air traffic control team, the role was one that attracted a male following. The profession still remains predominantly male, but Green is convinced it's because persons are unaware of what an air traffic controller's job entails.
Mental acuity is a must
"It's not labour-intensive or physical; it requires mental acuity," says the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority executive.
Green continues, "you have to be able to concentrate."
After 18 years in the job, 15 of those in the 360-degree-view control tower, Green now has an elegant office near the airline counters at Sangster International. The move has been a big one, and Green is not complaining at all, but misses the days of communicating with the many aircraft that fly into Jamaican airspace.
She describes the role of an air traffic controller as one which prevents collision between aircraft.
"Many people see what the pilot does, but they don't know what happens after that. We work behind the scenes to ensure that the aircraft get from one destination to the next safely," said Green.
She added that by the time that aircraft gets into the sky, there are so many other aircrafts that only the air traffic controller can see. "It's his or her responsibility to ensure that the aircraft travels safely," states explained.
When the aircraft exits Jamaican airspace, "we hand it over to the next controller, for instance Cuba".
In her role as chief air traffic controller, she directs and monitors the 12 controllers at her base, ensuring that they are performing their duties efficiently, complying with international standards, while securing training and development for her unit.
She notes that she is seeing more and more women entering the profession. Of the 12 persons she manages, four are women.
According to Green, who has served as vice-president of the Kiwanis Club of Montego Bay and is now anxious to join Toastmasters International, the beauty of her job is the fact that once you have completed a day's work, it is left in the same area. "Unlike a teacher who may need to take home papers to mark, when you put down your pen after working all day in this profession, that's it," said Green.
The mother of a son (and a niece who she mothers) tells Flair that initially after applying for the job, she was apprehensive because she became scared during training when she was told that a mistake on the job could result in jail time because so many people's lives are in their hands.
"I kept wondering, do I really want to go home and be worried about what I did today and be worried about going to jail," she quipped. Crossing those hurdles she said was easy.
"There are safeguards in place, we are able to take corrective action, in the event we pass on an instruction we shouldn't have," she assured.
Admitting that there are nerve-wracking moments, Green explains that when an aircraft is moving at breakneck speed, as a controller, there is no time to stop and figure out what to do,"So your concentration and quick response is very important," she says.
The chief air traffic controller says she always compares her job with that of an accountant. "Let's say you are balancing, and you can't figure it out, you can take a coffee break and come back; in our case you can't do that, we have to act now, you make the decision right there."
Obviously, there have been incidents, but Green writes them off as nothing serious.
"I have been here and have worked 200 movements of flights in a 24-hour shift," she reminisced, noting that after the tragic events of September 11, traffic basically died down.
"We went down to about 60 flights."
However, now, it is dependent on the season, and winter, she says, is her busiest.
Prior to September 11, as well, an air traffic controller could fly in the cockpit so that they could get a feel of what the pilot goes through during a flight, but that isn't the same anymore, said Green.
Like most air traffic controllers, who don't usually leave the job, Green said her job is such an interesting one that she has no intention of leaving anytime soon.