Api Appulingam, P.E., was born in Malaysia, a country native to neither of her parents. She credits her parents, who often traveled, for her love of traveling and exploring world cultures, which ultimately led her to say “yes” to a career in aviation.
“I love the experience of airports,” Appulingam said. “I feel like a kid in a candy store – even today – even though I work at an airport. I love people watching.” She “builds a story” about the people in her mind. “I just love to sit there and, I guess, daydream. I love watching the planes take off. I love sitting in an airplane and experiencing the takeoff and looking at the airfield. As an engineer, I geek out looking at the airfield and the geometry of the taxiways and runways. I just love aviation.”
As an engineering student, she hadn’t thought about working in aviation until the idea was presented to her at a college career fair.
Today Appulingam, is deputy director of aviation, capital development, for the City of Philadelphia Division of Aviation. That means she oversees a multi-billion-dollar program tasked with making critical improvements and developing new infrastructure at Philadelphia International Airport and the Northeast Philadelphia Airport through architectural, engineering, environmental, planning and sustainability projects. Ultimately, she is responsible for bringing innovation to the airfield, terminals and roadways at both airports.
She manages a staff of nearly 100 team members composed of engineers, planners, architects, scientists and managers. She believes in teamwork and said she has a great team. Appulingam began in her current role in 2019 but became familiar with the airport before then as the Philadelphia office leader for RS&H Inc., an architecture, engineering and consulting firm.
For her work, in 2017 Appulingam was recognized by the Society of Women Engineers as a “Woman Engineer You Should Know.” She is active in several organizations. She serves as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Committee chair for the Northeast Chapter of American Association of Airport Executives. She serves as the Philadelphia Chapter president-elect for Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS), an international organization dedicated to creating a more diverse, inclusive and equitable transportation industry through the advancement of women. She also mentors girls ages 13 to 18 as part of the WTS Transportation YOU program, which provides a hands-on, interactive introduction to a wide variety of transportation careers.
“I would love to see more women, minorities and underrepresented groups in the aviation industry and rising through the ranks of the industry,” Appulingam said, adding that’s important just as finance is important. “People are important,” she emphasized.
Looking to the future, she said, “I would love for us to be more proactive in terms of sustainability and resilience. Looking at our practices, we want to still provide the travel amenities that we provide today but do it in a way that’s better for the environment.”
And, she said she hopes never to lose that kid-in-a-candy store feeling when she walks into an airport.