First woman to take on air traffic returns

Noell Crawford and Yvonne Sintes in the NATS London Area Control Room in Swanwick
Noell Crawford and Yvonne Sintes in the NATS London Area Control Room in Swanwick
Picture: Malcolm Wells

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BRITAIN’S first-ever female air traffic controller took a trip down memory lane as she paid a visit to the air traffic control centre to see how much her old job had changed.

Yvonne Sintes, 84, visited the NATS control centre in Swanwick to reflect on 50 years of development in the industry.

Mrs Sintes worked as a controller at Gatwick Airport between 1960 and 1964.

Her position was groundbreaking and paved the way for many woman to follow in her trail.

It wasn’t easy for Mrs Sintes, who came up against sexism along the way.

Many of the men she 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.

Mrs Sintes, from Cranleigh, in Surrey, forged a hugely successful career that saw her honoured as the best air traffic controller in Europe in 1965 before going on to become the country’s first female airline captain.

Mrs Sintes said: ‘I am still passionate about aviation so it’s been fantastic to visit NATS, 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 hasn’t changed.’

Juliet Kennedy, NATS’ director of operations at Swanwick, said: ‘It was an honour to have Yvonne with us. 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.’