New CATCO at SAAF Centre of Transport Excellence


AFB Waterkloof, apart from being home to the VIP squadron of the SA Air Force (SAAF) and its transport squadrons, regularly hosts international dignitaries including foreign presidents whose arrival and departure will from now on be in the capable hands of new chief air traffic control officer (CATCO), Lieutenant Colonel Nthabiseng Thlagale.

Her CV is proof of her commitment to this particular – and taxing – component of aviation. It shows her first “job” in the SAAF was being mentored as an air traffic service assistant at Waterkloof, the same base she now holds sway as CATCO.

A report by Major Mpho Mathebula of SAAF Corporate Communication, part of the Air Force’s corporate services division, has it Thlagale was initially “unclear” on her career path in uniform.

“I ended up choosing air traffic control (ATC) over pilot because the word ‘control’ appealed to me,” she is quoted as saying.

This decision saw her at Waterkloof on completion of basic military training (BMT) in 2002.

Since then her time in the blue uniform has seen her qualify and serve as air traffic service assistant (AFB Langebaanweg). Completing an aerodrome course at AFB Hoedspruit saw her acquire her licence to control aircraft in flight. She became the first black woman in the SAAF to qualify as an ATC following instruction at AFB Swartkop, with validation at AFB Waterkloof. Other training included an approach control course at AFB Waterkloof, flight information service training at Bushveld Airspace Control Sector (BACS), and approach controller and senior ATC training.

A stint at ATNS (Air Traffic and Navigation Services) in 2020 followed where Thlagale managed airspace booking for operations including paradrops, flypasts and UAV missions among others for the SAAF. Back in harness, as it were, Thlagale found herself at the Air Force Command Post as air show planner before this month’s promotion to CATCO and back to where it all began at AFB Waterkloof.

She lists being first black woman ATC, approach controller, manager of the SAAF Central Aviation Management Unit (CAMU) and CATCO as career highlights to date.

“Holding and maintaining currency in different ratings; one at AFB Hoedspruit, one at AFB Waterkloof, one at CAMU and one at BACS while studying part time at UNISA are also highlights,” she said.

Looking ahead, Thlagale sees activity on external and internal logistic flights from Waterkloof as well as VVIP flights and planning for next year’s Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition  keeping her fully occupied in her eyrie above movements on the eastern side of the base.