Air Traffic Controller

    If you are wondering how to become an air traffic controller, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers within the transport industry, as well as logistics job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Air traffic controllers help pilots to take off and land safely, and make sure that aircraft travelling through UK airspace are kept a safe distance apart. The work can involve guiding passenger, freight and military aircraft.

    Air traffic controllers are responsible for a particular piece of airspace, known as an airspace ‘sector’. They maintain radio contact with pilots flying through their sector, relaying information, such as weather conditions. They also give instructions to re-route flight paths or change altitude, for example, if an unscheduled aircraft enters the airspace.

    Air traffic control is split into three different job roles:

    area controllers work at control centres and deal with aircraft in flight; they use radar and computer systems to track the exact position of each aircraft and direct them along the most efficient route through the airspace
    approach controllers manage the descent of approaching aircraft; they decide when and where planes should land and guide them into the most efficient landing order
    aerodrome controllers work from a visual control tower and look after planes as they arrive and depart.
    In very busy airports, the work is split between air controllers (the three types outlined above) and ground controllers. Air controllers will guide the plane during landing, while ground controllers will manage planes on the runway, issuing instructions as planes taxi to and from parking stands and holding areas.

    Air traffic controllers also respond to emergency distress calls; for example, if a light aircraft loses its way, controllers give the pilot details of their exact position and guide them to safety.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good air traffic controllers include:

    the ability to work calmly under pressure
    the ability to solve problems and make decisions quickly
    excellent communication skills to give clear instructions to pilots
    confidence working with technology
    the ability to absorb and interpret information from different sources
    the ability to check information quickly and accurately
    good numeracy skills
    good spatial vision
    a responsible outlook
    good teamworking skills
    a willingness to work flexibly
    a keen interest in aircraft and aviation.

    How to become an air traffic controller
    You will need to gain an air traffic control licence to become a fully qualified controller. You gain the licence by completing an approved training course offered by National Air Traffic Services (NATS), BAE Systems and Aviation Services Training and Consultancy (ASTAC).

    You can self-fund your own training or apply to an air traffic control provider for sponsorship. The courses can last several months and include residential training. You should be aware that costs can add up to several thousand pounds if you are going to pay your own fees.

    To get onto a trainee air traffic controller’s course, you will have to meet certain minimum entry requirements. You must:

    be at least 18 years old when you apply (a full licence is only issued at age 20 or over)
    be eligible to work in the UK
    have a good standard of education, normally five GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3), including English and maths.
    The training providers also recommend that you pass a Civil Aviation Authority Class 1 medical exam before applying for a training post. They also advise that you try an aptitude test beforehand because if you are successful in your initial application, the training provider will invite you for aptitude tests and an interview.

    If you have relevant aviation experience, as a military air traffic controller, civil or military assistant, or military or commercial piloting, you will be considered.

    You can also apply directly to airport operators. Although they usually look for experienced controllers, you may be able to find a position as an air traffic control assistant. Once working, you could continue training to become a fully qualified air traffic controller.

    You will find details about this career and training programmes with National Air Traffic Services, BAE Systems and Aviation Services Training and Consultancy in Further Information.

    GoSkills has general information about aviation careers, and the Civil Aviation Authority has details about this job, the medical exam and the licensing requirements.

    Training and Development
    Your career as an air traffic controller will start at your approved training provider’s centre. These are based at Bournemouth (NATS), Cwmbran (BAE), and Shoreham and Gloucester (ASTAC).

    The length of training can vary, depending on the provider but normally lasts several months.

    The training combines classroom instruction with practical exercises. Computer simulators recreate real air traffic situations for practical training. Assessors will monitor your progress and you must pass every part of the course to continue.

    If you successfully complete the college-based training, you will need to apply for a trainee position at an operational unit. As a trainee, you will work towards qualifying as an operational air traffic control officer (ATCO). An experienced instructor supervises this on-the-job training.

    All air traffic controllers have to pass a thorough medical examination every two years until the age of 40, then every year after that.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    A sponsored trainee air traffic controller at college earns around £10,000 a year.
    During the validation period they earn between £15,000 and £19,000 a year.
    Qualified ATCOs can earn up to £46,000 a year.
    Supervisors and senior controllers can earn up to £80,000 a year.

    Job Prospects
    Opportunities for air traffic controllers are closely linked to the fortunes of the airline industry and at the moment are very good, as there is a shortage of qualified controllers.

    If you train as a controller with NATS, your main opportunities will be with the larger UK airports and Area Control Centres. If you train with BAE Systems or Aviation Services Training and Consultancy, you will find jobs at many medium-sized and smaller UK airfields that employ controllers directly. The UK air traffic control licence also allows you to work in the EU.

    Many controllers remain in the role throughout their career but you may have opportunities to move into the training and assessment of new air traffic controllers. With experience, you can become an operational watch supervisor or unit manager.

    You can also find opportunities with the Royal Air Force.

    Useful logistics or transport resources:
    Concorde House
    Trinity Park
    B37 7UQ
    Tel: 0121 635 5520

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