Pioneer for women in aviation visits NATS control centre

14 August 2014

Britain’s first ever female air traffic controller paid a special visit to the NATS control centre in Swanwick today.

Yvonne Sintes, 84, was a controller at Gatwick Airport between 1960 and 1964 and her visit to NATS was a unique opportunity to reflect on 50 years of change in the industry.

Many of the men Yvonne worked alongside in the early 1960s found the idea of a woman controller impossible, including her instructor who tried to persuade her to leave the training programme. A French pilot once even refused to land at Gatwick, preferring instead to divert to Biggin Hill rather than take instructions from a woman controller.

Yet despite such prejudice, Yvonne was able to forge a hugely successful career that saw her honoured as the best air traffic controller in Europe in 1965 before going on to also become the country’s first female airline captain.

Yvonne said: “I am still passionate about aviation so it’s been fantastic to visit NATS today, to meet the current controllers and see how far things have come in 50 years. During the 1960s Britain had a reputation for having the best air traffic controllers in the world, so it is good to see that at least hasn’t changed.”

Air traffic levels have increased enormously since Yvonne was a controller, with NATS managing 2.2 million flights last year. Yet despite that, many of the key principles of air traffic management remain the same, including an on going focus on safety. However today’s current controllers are now supported by a wide range of advanced technological tools.

Today NATS can predict a flight’s position up to 18 minutes into the future, while also calculating the environmental efficiency of each individual aircraft under its control.

Juliet Kennedy, NATS’ Director of Operations at Swanwick Centre, said: “It has been an honour to have Yvonne with us today. Her determination to overcome the barriers of a male dominated industry helped pave the way for future generations to build successful careers in aviation.

“Today we employ hundreds of women controllers thanks to Yvonne and pioneers like her.”

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