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Airport communication

Lynn Lau
Northern News Services

Aklavik (Aug 19/02) - Otto Malegana's cheerful voice crackles across the radio airwaves.

Weather, temperature, altimeter, visibility -- he's got it all for pilots coming and going from the Aklavik airport. For 10 hours a day, Malegana scans his instruments and keeps an ear on the radio from his second-floor office.

NNSL Photo

Otto Malegana at controls in the Aklavik airport. - Lynn Lau/NNSL photo

The 32-year-old has been working as the community aerodrome radio operator for 10 years, ever since he was plucked off the street to attend airport communicator training in Fort Smith.

Back then, he was unemployed and the hamlet office was looking for someone to take the job.

"I was just walking down the road, and my cousin who was working at the hamlet office asked me if I wanted to go to Fort Smith," Malegana says.

"That's how I started I guess. I went down and did the training, then there was one week on-the-job training and I was straight into the office."

He quickly learned he had the knack for radio. He's got a good radio voice too -- bright, friendly and easy to listen to.

Although the hours are long, the job has its perks. In his years at the airport, Malegana says he's met many people from around the world. And except for a ptarmigan that flew through an airplane propeller ("Poor ptarmigan -- nothing left of him except feathers and blood,") there's been no mishaps.

"I like it in the summer because we have everyone coming and going," Malegana says. "When it's nice and warm, we have an air conditioner, so people come around and sit with me."

Malegana has been working much of his life. His father died when he was nine and he took his first job at the age of 12 to help support his disabled mother.

"She always made me work," Malegana says. "Now that's how I am -- working all the time."

After finishing Grade 10 in Aklavik, Malegana quit school so he could work full-time.

As young man, he worked as a labourer, stock boy for the Hudson's Bay, oil rig worker and cargo handler. His mother died when he was 19. Malegana went back to school to finish his Grade 12, and later got into the radio work.

Although he lost his parents young, he says he's always been cheerful and outgoing.

"You got to keep an open happy mind or you'll go crazy -- that's my outlook," he says.