Erik Nielsen International Airport Manager since October 2016, Robert Manlig, the first Filipino Canadian to hold the position, has found his calling in the Yukon.
“Aviation has always been the love of my life. It’s an exciting industry,” Manlig says. “It never gets old watching planes land, take off and listening to ATC (Air Traffic Control) from my office.
“It’s the excitement of seeing passengers leaving and arriving. Everyone has a story. That’s why I love that reality show on CBC Hello Goodbye. This is it. I really do love my job! Do something you love and you never work a day.”
He says that his colleagues in the Yukon have impressed him with their sense of community and professionalism. “Everyone has pride in the work they do, no matter if they work on the ramp, fueling, customer service etc.”
Manlig says it’s a unique setting from the airports down south.
“You can live your life and have a life [here]. No one is trying to keep up with the Joneses.”
One of Manlig’s first tasks as airport general manager has been overseeing the new airport renovations.
“The changes that are emerging in the ATB (Air Terminal Building) are the exciting part,” he says. “I have had the privilege to see the former, and the soon-to-be new look.”
He enjoys working behind the scenes. He believes in treating everyone equally and saying “hi” to everyone, regardless of hierarchy, while on the job.
Manlig comes from humble beginnings. His grandmother, who passed away in 2013, had 13 children, two of whom died during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. She was widowed and took care of her 11 remaining children on her own.
“She took care of three generations of children. She was a strong woman. A woman coming from poverty. She taught me kindness,” says Manlig.
Born in the Philippines, Manlig moved to Hawaii with his grandmother when he was a child . His mother moved to Winnipeg with $12 in her pocket and a $50 loan, where she married and worked in a garment factory.
Manlig moved to Canada when he was 10 years old and spent his formative years growing up in Winnipeg, where he pursued his interest in aviation.
Manlig has visited every province and territory in Canada over the course of his career. Starting off in the industry Manlig got a job as a flight attendant on a Hakwer Siddeley 748 with CALM Air – a Canadian Airlines Partner in Winnipeg that flew in the North.
“My passion for the Northern Communities started when I worked with CALM Air travelling to Churchill, Manitoba, Baker Lake and Arviat to name a few. There’s a real sense of family and culture,” he says. “You get humbled very quickly in the small communities.”
From there he worked his way up in the industry and learned the ropes through experience. “At the time I wanted to be a pilot but my mother said, ‘You can do your hobby later.’ So I went to university at the same time,” says Manlig. He earned a Political Science degree and an MBA while married and raising his children. In 2016 after working his way up in the aviation industry Manlig put in his resume for the airport manager position that he now holds. He got the call around the end of August 2016 and started the job in early October 2016.
On an Air North flight to Whitehorse for the interview Manlig was struck by the community feel of the place.
“In Yukon when you wear a suit people are like ‘This guy is new.’ When you go on an Air North Plane everyone knows you. The guy behind me knew everything about the airport and asked if he was the new manager,” Manlig laughs.
An airport manager position in the Philippines is a high level appointment made by the president of the country. An airport manager in the Philippine capital of Manila reports directly to the president through the department of transport. As such Manlig’s position is a big deal for the Filipino community.
A devout Catholic and an active member of his church, Manlig identifies strongly with the Filipino community in the Yukon.
“We inspire each other. I’m always humbled by people who come here with four kids and they do it,” he says. “I’m for the underdog, the ones who have had to struggle in life. I want them to know to keep at it. Find your niche and keep going in life. It’s a hard road, but when you get there it’s worth it.”
“It’s important to share my journey to the Filipino youths to show them goals are achievable and that my struggles were similar to theirs because of coming from the homeland,” he says.
“By being proactive in the community, I hope to share my own personal experiences with our youth wherever I can, motivate and inspire them as our leaders of tomorrow. With proper guidance, they can build and continue to build on their dreams.”
Manlig believes that Canadians get some of the best aviation training in the world because they train up north but that younger generations, especially pilots, are increasingly going abroad for work, leaving a shortage of personnel at home. “We don’t have enough young pilots to compete in next generation. We need to inspire more people,” he says.
Manlig has a son in the Canadian Armed Forces, currently deployed in Latvia, and at the time of our interview he was hoping that his son would get time off to visit for his daughter’s wedding. He plans to stay in the Yukon for life.