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Sept. 1, 2017 // NATCA Intern Holly Hughes Takes Next Steps in Aviation Career


I am a senior at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., pursuing a degree in Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, with a minor in Meteorology. I grew up around general aviation, so I have known all my life that I wanted to be involved in the aviation community. I am proud to say that I am the first woman in my family to obtain a pilot’s license.

While I love flying, I never saw myself pursuing it as a career. It was actually while conducting my flight training that I first became interested in becoming an air traffic controller. The controllers at Albuquerque Tower (ABQ) continuously did an amazing job when I was completing my training. I’ll never forget the first day I soloed. My nerves were evident as I spoke over the radio, but the controllers working that day were so kind and helpful to me. After completing my three landings, the controller congratulated me and told me how well I had done. I can say with absolute sincerity that the controller’s compliment meant more to me than that of my instructor. There were a couple of instances where the controllers at ABQ reassured me, which made me want to provide the same reassurance to other pilots by pursuing a career as a professional air traffic controller.

Hughes1I have gained more insight and knowledge than I could have ever asked for in an internship over the past 10 weeks working at NATCA. I really did not know what to expect when I went to intern for the union. However, I knew right away that I would love being there when I walked in and saw pictures of different facilities covering the walls.

As an intern, I gained knowledge and skills working with several different NATCA departments including Executive, Communications, and Safety & Technology. I was also fortunate enough to attend a NATCA membership meeting, NATCA’s Eastern Regional FacRep Meeting, and several other events. The dedication, passion, and unionism demonstrated by everyone involved with NATCA at these events and in their daily work is extraordinary, and creates a sense of community and family that I never expected.

I also had the opportunity to travel to Oklahoma City for a NATCA Meet & Greet and Oshkosh for EAA AirVenture. At each of these events I met many incredible people. Both trips were eye-opening experiences for me. In Oklahoma City, I was able to see the FAA Academy, a place I hope to attend soon. I also got to hear NATCA President Paul Rinaldi speak to the new hires about everything involving a career in ATC. It was reassuring to see that NATCA is so involved on all levels. I was very fortunate to have been able to go to Oshkosh. I had wanted to attend EAA AirVenture since I was a little girl, and getting to attend it with NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert and other members of the NATCA family made it better than I could have ever hoped for. Being surrounded by thousands of people who are passionate about the same things as you, is a very unique and exciting experience.

Interning for NATCA has left me inspired for so many different reasons. The passion that I have seen from NATCA members is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I have never seen an organization so dedicated to what it does, and so committed to its membership and its profession. I had the opportunity to speak with both current and retired controllers, which was very helpful to me as I begin my pursuit of a career in ATC. I wanted to hear about everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly. As everyone can imagine, controllers are always willing to give their opinions. Hearing the stories of different controllers has reaffirmed how incredible an ATC career is. I would not have the confidence in pursuing ATC that I do now if not for this internship. Words cannot justify how grateful I am to have had this experience and I hope to be back with NATCA soon, this time as a member.

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