Jonathan Ong - CAAS Overseas Scholar, has a Bachelor of Electrical & Electronic Engineering from Imperial College London, UK and a Master of Science in Industrial Engineering & Operations Research from University of California, Berkeley, USA. He is currently a Data Scientist in the Air Traffic Management Plans and Development department of CAAS.
When the aviation industry was battered by the pandemic, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) took the opportunity to implement solutions and spearhead initiatives to embrace the changing nature of air travel.
However, robust and effective aviation policy is only possible when backed by solid, well-researched data. This is where Jonathan Ong, CAAS Undergraduate Scholar and Data Scientist with CAAS' Air Traffic Management Plans and Development department, has found his niche.
With the aim of developing CAAS as a data-driven Air Navigation Services Provider, he draws on the rich information available in the aviation industry to guide policy development and future growth. This translates to a truly broad work scope, as Jonathan's projects include studying the trajectory efficiency of aircraft, identifying hotspots along air routes, and benchmarking the efficiency of Changi Airport against competitors.
The busy 27-year-old took a breather from his dashboards to speak with us on his journey, what makes CAAS a "data scientist's paradise", and what this dynamic organisation has to offer any scholar.
To start, why did you choose this industry and CAAS?
I learned about the CAAS Overseas Undergraduate Scholarship at a scholarship fair when I studied at Victoria Junior College. The dynamism and vibrancy of the aviation industry appealed to me and set me on a path to delve deeper into the essential role that aviation plays for Singapore.
If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how critical it is for Singapore to remain connected to the world, and it is meaningful to know that the work we do has a significant impact on the lives and livelihood of Singaporeans.
Connecting us to the world is key to the aviation industry, so how did CAAS do that for you?
As a tech enthusiast, I was delighted to have had the opportunity to study in London and California, both of which are among the top tech hubs of the world. As tech powerhouses, they were magnets for huge tech conferences and prominent figures from the tech industry. I fondly recall Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, sharing his experiences as a founder, and the key areas in which a startup should focus on during its early stages of launching a product with a better market fit. It was highly beneficial to learn from the successes and failures of these respectable figures.
Apart from having a lot of fun during these four years, the overseas experience also spurred my personal growth to become more independent and take charge of my own life.
Did you and your fellow scholars ever feel alone, overseas by yourselves?
Not once, thanks to CAAS! My organisation engaged us actively during our time abroad. For instance, whenever CAAS' senior management visited the region, they would always make it a point to visit the city we were staying at to meet us for a meal. We were always grateful that CAAS' senior management would take time out of their busy schedules to check in on us and see how we are faring.
CAAS certainly cares deeply for its scholars. Now that you are back in Singapore, what is a day at CAAS like?
As a Data Scientist at CAAS, my primary role is to gain insights from air traffic management data and use them to steer our policies.
Hence, a day at CAAS can be quite varied, depending on which project you are dealing with, reflecting the dynamism of the wider aviation industry! Oftentimes, you will get to work with officers specialising in different fields, which exposes you to varied perspectives and gives you a fuller understanding of Singapore's civil aviation.
Also, CAAS embarks on many collaborative projects with key international partners in vital areas such as aviation safety and airport performance benchmarking, so we regularly meet our international counterparts to develop joint initiatives and share best practices.
Tell us more about the career opportunities for people working at your organisation.
Given the highly-interconnected nature of the various divisions, teams rarely work in silos and one can expect to be exposed to a wide variety of work across various domains.
Scholars are placed on two-year rotation cycles, and it's common that officers are rotated among divisions, ranging from a highly operational/on-the-ground division to a division dealing with strategic planning. There are also opportunities to be posted to other ministries, private organisations and even overseas.
Thank you for your time. Lastly, what would you say to convince someone to join CAAS?
CAAS plays a vital role in growing a safe and vibrant air hub for Singapore, which is key to Singapore's survival and success. If you are passionate about aviation and the public service, then CAAS would be a natural fit!