When Angela Ng was studying, she never thought of herself as an “aviation fanatic”, or someone who might one day consider a career in the sector.
After all, as a student, she always thought aviation in Singapore was “either Singapore Airlines or Changi airport”. In fact, as she pursued her undergraduate studies – in “the most generic course” of business – she was still unsure what her career path would be.
Yet the 40-year-old would be led to the aviation sector, where she has spent more than a decade with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).
Now a director at the agency’s aviation industry development division, Ng oversees the growth and development of the city-state’s air transport and airport industries, as well as in jobs and skills.
Ng says it was her first job after graduating – at a government manpower agency – that led her into the sector. While at the Workforce Development Agency (now known as Workforce Singapore), she was an account manager overseeing manpower development in the aerospace sector, interacting with MRO providers and other companies in the industry.
“That opened up the whole new world of aerospace to me, and from that, led to a lot of other related job opportunities,” she says.
“It really shaped the direction of my career and my interests. [It] helped me realise, by some sort of serendipity, that aviation is a wonderful industry to get into, and had a lot of depth and… diversity for me to explore throughout the rest of my career.”
At CAAS, which she joined in 2010, Ng would chalk up experience in departments such as industry development, safety policy – where she worked on Singapore’s return to service of the Boeing 737 Max – as well as international relations.
In her current role, which she took up in 2021, Ng also oversees efforts to rebuild Singapore’s aviation sector, battered by two years of the pandemic.
One project that gets Ng excited is the development of Changi airport’s huge fifth terminal.
She says: “[We] all feel a sense of responsibility that in the next few years, we really have to work with the sector to plan [for Terminal 5].”
As Ng talks about her work experience, she is aware of the many opportunities that have paved the way for her in the aviation sector.
One of them was a secondment to New York to support Singapore’s foreign affairs ministry during the UN General Assembly. Issues she worked on were beyond simply aviation, such as women’s development, and sustainability, but Ng says the stint – a career highlight – has been valuable, especially after she returned to CAAS.
The experience was “one in a million” and would not have come if “I had stayed in my comfort zone”, she says. Stepping out of such comfort zones is a challenge females working in aviation must overcome, Ng says.
“Sometimes [you are] assessed with a higher bar because you are entering an environment where you are not the norm,” she says.
While she was in the safety policy department overseeing work to lift an operational ban on the 737 Max, Ng says she felt a bit daunted, as most of the agency’s safety inspectors were men.
“I’m not a technical person, but [I think] I brought a new perspective… a new background and insights… that were not the mainstream way of doing things,” she says.
While Ng believes more can always be done to improve diversity in the sector, she stresses the importance of starting young.
Referring to her impression of aviation in her student days, she says: “We need to offer youth more windows into seeing what aviation is like and understanding beyond the tip of the iceberg.”
On 15 October, CAAS supported the Singapore chapter of the Women In Aviation association in organising a ‘Girls In Aviation Day’, where girls aged between 8 and 17 were invited to learn more about the sector, including meeting with female leaders.
CAAS is also working with schools in Singapore on a series of activities – including reviving the Air Scout programme – to introduce aerospace to young people.
There is also a piece of advice that Ng gives to her colleagues – including younger females – and that is to “grab whatever opportunity comes your way”.
Relating her own experiences, Ng says: “I [used to be] very hesitant to take on job opportunities or roles where I felt I could not excel because… in a way, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I want to do well in whatever I’m tasked to do.
“But at some point in time, you will be given opportunities, like [how] I was given the opportunity to move from looking at domestic manpower development to looking at international relations.
“I could have [chosen not to have] taken that leap, [and] stayed in my comfort zone. But if I had not taken that step… I don’t think I would be where I am today,” she says.