Air traffic controllers ensure that aircraft fly safely and efficiently through UK airspace. They guide and advise pilots at take-off, during the flight, as they approach the airport and when they land. They are sometimes called air traffic control officers (ATCOs).
You could be:
using radar to make sure all aircraft are a safe distance apart and following flight plans
giving instructions and advice to pilots by radio
getting position reports from pilots
checking flight plans and making calculations on computer
making decisions based on types of aircraft and weather conditions
dealing with changes in flight plans due to bad weather conditions, security alerts or other emergencies.
You could work as one of three types of air traffic controller:
Area controllers – you would be responsible for aircraft flying in one particular piece of airspace, keeping in constant radio contact with the pilots, tracking and guiding them
Approach controllers – you would deal with planes preparing to approach for landing, putting them into correct sequence for landing and guiding pilots while they land the aircraft. You might also link them to the guidance system for automatic landing when weather conditions are poor
Aerodrome controllers – you would deal with planes once they are about to land, guiding aircraft through landings, take-offs and handling their movements on the ground, to and from the runway.
The figures below are only a guide. Actual pay rates may vary, depending on:
where you work
the size of the company or organisation you work for
the demand for the job.
Trainees on the NATS training scheme earn a basic salary of £19,842 a year while attending college and receive an annual accommodation payment equivalent to £7,769, which is paid monthly whilst you remain a trainee.
Once qualified, your salary rises to £42,991 to £47,915 a year. Experienced ATCOs at certain units (Swanwick Centre or Heathrow Tower) can earn from £100,000 a year (inclusive of shift pay).
You might work for National Air Traffic Services (NATS), an individual airport, aircraft manufacturer, local authority or the Royal Air Force.
You would work in an area control centre or a control tower.
You would sit in front of a radar screen or computer.
You would have to wear a headset.
You would be required to work shifts (called 'watches'), including night shifts.
You would also have to work weekends and public holidays.
To enter as a trainee with NATS, you must be over 18, have at least 5 subjects at National 5, including English and Maths and be eligible to work in the UK.
Entry requirements for other employers vary; some recruit only fully qualified and experienced controllers, whilst others ask for at least 3 Highers as well as the subjects at National 5.
Candidates with fewer qualifications may get in if they have experience in military flying, military air traffic control or commercial flying.
NATS recruit on an ongoing basis for courses starting throughout the year. You can apply using the online application form on their careers website (see below). If eligible you will be asked to complete nine short online tests. These are designed to test cognitive and decision making skills.
If successful at the first stage, you move onto stage 2 and complete two online activities - a situational judgement test and a personality questionnaire.
If you pass stage 2, you will be asked along to an assessment day to undertake a series of tests, a group exercise and formal interview (this is currently held online using Microsoft Teams). If you don't pass Stage 2, you can reapply after 12 months up to a maximum of three times.
If you are successful on the assessment day, you will undergo security checks and have a medical examination. You will need good eyesight and normal colour vision together with good hearing and good general health.
Although you can say where you would prefer to be posted you must be ready to work in any part of the country.