Meet Felicia, the aircraft marshal with passion
In her reflective jacket, safety boot and ear defenders, she positions herself at the Airside of the airport and waves her pair of bats (during the day) or wangs (at night) to signal pilots to park, that is, to marshal their aircraft to the bay.
That is the work of Ms Felicia Edem Attipoe, an Aircraft Marshaller at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra.
As part of the aircraft ground-handling activities, she gives signals to the pilots to turn left or right, slow down, stop, and shut down engines, leads the aircraft to its parking stand or to the runway.
The bats are usually painted orange to make them visible to pilots.
She also gives take-off and landing clearance to aeroplanes and helicopters.
Although the profession is a male-dominated area, Ms Attipoe is among the few women who have defied the odds to rub shoulders with the men as aircraft marshallers and is committed to her work.
“So far as I was concerned, aircraft marshalling was purely a man’s job. It was solely done by men, till I joined the section. Now we have 15 ladies here. And for me, there are no gender hindrances,” Ms Attipoe asserted.
Describing how her work is done, the single mother of two said “we work hand in hand with air traffic controllers and the Rescue Fire Fighting Services (RFFS) of the airport”.
“The moment the aircraft lands on the runway, the air traffic controller hands over the plane to the marshaller to help it park. The lives of the people on board are in the hands of the aircraft marshaller,” she added.
She further explained that to have a full view of the aircraft and for the aircraft to have a full view of the marshaller, it was very important to stand at an appropriate place.
It is therefore very clear that compromising safety in aircraft marshalling could mean bargaining with the lives of the people on the aeroplane or helicopter.
Contrary to the experience of many people who may get scared or shiver at the sight of seeing an aeroplane coming towards them, Ms Attipoe said the experience was more of fun than scary.
“Seeing a Boeing 747 or Airbus 340 coming towards you is scary but the fun of it is when the pilot has to comply with the directions you are giving him and you helping him to park safely and correctly,” she said.
She further expressed how much she loved her job by saying “I love everything about my work. I love my work with so much passion that I don’t hate anything about it”.
How the journey started
Recalling how she started her journey as an aircraft marshaller in 2012, Ms Attipoe said she started as a secretary at the Ghana Civil Aviation in 1999 till it was decoupled, after which she joined the Ghana Airports Company Limited.
“So I have been a secretary for over 10 years. In 2011, I was transferred to the Ramp Manager’s office as a secretary. When I got there I realised there was little a secretary could do at that section. I was dormant and always sleeping. I felt I was underutilised.
“I reported to the Human Resource Manager to find out if I could be transferred to another department, but there was no vacancy anywhere so I had to stay. At that time there were no females. I sometimes went to look at the way the guys marshall the aircraft to the bay, and it fascinated me,” she said.
After watching them work for some time, Ms Attipoe said she felt motivated and inspired that she could do same, so she went to see the Director of Airport Operations and told him she was interested in that field.
Although it took him some time to agree, there came an opportunity for the training of marshallers and she was made to apply.
“I failed the exams the first time, rewrote and passed it at the second attempt. My first time on the field was tough. When I saw the aircraft coming, I wanted to drop the bats and run away, but the men were so helpful. They encouraged me and gave me much support,” she recalled.
Ms Felicia Edem Attipoe and her children
“I am fulfilled”
When asked if she was living her childhood dream, she said although an aircraft marshalling was not her childhood dream, she was living a fulfilled life because growing up, she wanted to be a musician and later she wanted to become a secretary.
“I had always wanted to be a musician when I was a child. Then when I entered secondary school, I decided to be a secretary. Yes, I am really fulfilled. I sing and play the organ sometimes at church or at functions when I’m invited.
“Later I achieved the dream of becoming a secretary, and worked as such for over 10 years. Then I entered into a career I never dreamt of. So I am really satisfied,” she said.
Ms Attipoe is not only an aircraft marshaller, but also involved in social works and so she is one of the Unit Committee members of her electoral area in Community 3, Tema, and currently, she is embarking on a library project in the community.
According to her, one of her proud moments was when she had to marshal the presidential Flight 001 which had President John Dramani Mahama on board.
Ms Attipoe is an old student of the OLA Senior High School at Ho. She pursued her Bachelor of Arts degree programme at the African University College of Communications.
She also holds a Diploma in Photography from Temple University, Japan and Certificates in Aerodrome Safety, Certificate in Marshalling and Radio Telephony from the Aviation School.