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Air Traffic Controller Profile


This Section of the site details information that you might find useful if you are looking to secure employment or require further details regarding working as an Air Traffic Controller. This page details the following Information:-

  • Finding Suitable Work as an Air Traffic Controller
  • Working Duties Expected
  • Hours and Environment
  • Working Skills Required
  • Training Requirements
  • Salary Expectations
  • Trade Information
  • Other useful Air Traffic Controller Work Information

Finding Suitable Work

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Working Duties Expected

Air traffic controllers keep air traffic flying safely and efficiently. They help pilots to take off and land safely, and make sure that planes are kept a safe distance apart.

Air traffic controllers are responsible for a particular section of airspace. They are in frequent radio contact with pilots flying over their section, giving them instructions, advice and information. Air traffic controllers have different duties according to where they are based.

Area controllers are based away from airports at control centres. They direct planes in flight and give them the most efficient route to their destination. Using radar and computer technology they can track the exact position of each aircraft. They also use radar to keep traffic separated in the air. Most air traffic controllers work as area controllers.

Approach controllers take over as the aircraft approaches the airport. They are responsible for deciding when and where each plane should land, and guiding them into the most efficient order.

Aerodrome controllers look after the plane as it comes into the airport. They guide it to a safe landing and into a parking stand. In very busy airports, they could be either air controllers, who look after the plane during landing, or ground controllers, who take over once it has touched down. Aerodrome controllers also guide aircraft during take-off, seeing them safely from the parking stands onto the runway and into the air.

Air traffic controllers also respond to distress calls - for example, if light aircraft pilots lose their way, controllers give them information about their exact position.

Hours and Environment:

Air traffic controllers work shifts, covering days, nights, weekends and public holidays. During shifts, they can guide several aircraft for up to one and a half hours, followed by a half-hour break between each session.

They spend most of their working time sitting at a workstation using computers, radar displays and radio equipment to gather and interpret data, communicating with pilots through a headset.

Skills and Interests:

To be an air traffic controller you should:

  • be able to work under pressure
  • be calm and clear thinking
  • be able to solve problems and make decisions quickly
  • be able to give clear spoken instructions to pilots
  • be confident with technology
  • be able to absorb information from different sources
  • be able to check information quickly and accurately
  • be good at mental arithmetic
  • have good spatial vision
  • have a good short-term memory
  • have a mature outlook
  • be flexible and a good team-worker


You should be at least 18 and under 30 at the time you apply. Applicants over 30 with extensive relevant aviation experience may also be considered.

You should have five GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3), and have completed a period of study at a higher level, such as two A levels, an Advanced GNVQ or the equivalent, or be in your final year of study.

For details of qualification equivalents see:

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (England, Wales and Northern Ireland)
Scottish Qualifications Authority
The selection process includes one day of testing, two interviews and a computer assessment. Security clearance, medical checks and references will be sought before the training programme begins. You must be eligible to work in the UK.

Candidates should check with the National Air Traffic Services for further details.


Training takes place at the College of Air Traffic Control, next to Bournemouth International Airport. Courses start in January, April, July and October and last 18 months, during which time you receive a salary. The course combines classroom instruction and practical exercises. High-tech computer simulators recreate real air traffic situations for practical training. Your progress is monitored by continuous assessment and you must pass every part of the course to be allowed to continue.

If you successfully complete the college course, you will be posted to an operational unit to work as a trainee air traffic controller. As a trainee, you work towards qualifying as an operational air traffic control officer (ATCO). After a few years more experience, you could apply to take a five-year non-operational secondment, training and assessing prospective new air traffic controllers. Another route is to become an Operational Watch Supervisor in charge of other ATCOs.

Air traffic controllers must pass a thorough medical examination every two years (every year after the age of 40). You should have good eyesight, hearing and colour vision.


There are around 2,500 air traffic controllers in the UK. Around 2,000 are employed by the National Air Traffic Services (NATS), the rest are employed directly by airport operators.

Some air traffic controllers work in control towers at airports, but most are based in control centres. The area control centre at Prestwick, near Glasgow deals with flights in Scottish airspace and parts of the North Atlantic. A new control centre at Swanwick has taken over control of airspace in England and Wales. It is the biggest and most advanced air traffic centre in the world. Around 800 air traffic controllers, engineers and other skilled staff are based there.

Opportunities exist with the Royal Air Force.

Promotion is available to operational watch supervisor, supervising other air traffic controllers.

Annual Income:

Figures are intended as a guideline only.

A trainee air traffic controller earns around £26,000. Air traffic control officers earn between £33,000 and £35,000. Supervisors and senior controllers earn around £60,000.

Further information:

National Air Traffic Services Ltd
Recruitment and Selection
Mailbox 15B
Sopwith Way
SO31 7AY
Tel: 01489 612157

Other Useful Air Traffic Controller Work Information

We have a section available at this site on Air Traffic Controller job interview tips that you may find of interest should you wish to brush up your skills in this area and we also have number of career articles that may also be of use to you from within our guides and documents section.

Locations where we feature Jobs include:-
Aberdeen, Berkshire, Aberdeen, Bath, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cambridgeshire, Cardiff, Central London, Cheltenham, Cornwall, Coventry, Derby, Devon, Docklands, Dorset, Dundee, Durham, East Midlands, East Sussex, Edinburgh, Essex, Glasgow, Gloucester, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lancashire, Leeds, Leicester, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Midlands and in various parts of the West Midlands

Details of other Air Traffic Controller Jobs can also be found in other UK wide areas including:-
Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Norfolk, North London, North Midlands, Northampton, Northamptonshire, Northern Ireland, Northumberland, Norwich, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, Oxford, Oxfordshire, Plymouth, Salisbury, Scotland, Sheffield, Shropshire, Somerset, South East, South London, South Midlands, Southampton, Staffordshire Surrey, Swansea, Swindon, Telford, Wales, Warwickshire, West End, West London, West Midlands, Worcestershire, York and throughout Yorkshire.

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