Air Traffic Controller
Air traffic controllers (ATC) use complex navigation equipment to help airline pilots to take off, navigate, and land safely. In essence, they will talk to pilots through headsets, telling them what they see on their screens, and issuing instructions to ensure the smooth running of the airspace they control. Although safety is the main priority, a key part of the role is also making sure as many aircraft as possible stick to schedule, arriving and departing on time. The role requires concentration, excellent communication skills, and the ability to multitask. Also crucial is an ability to work under pressure; Air traffic controllers are partly responsible for the lives of many passengers and crew, and can also be called upon to help light aircraft in distress, especially in bad weather.
There are three main types of ATC: area, approach and aerodrome control. Area controllers are responsible for the safe delivery of aircraft through their aerospace, tracking their progress and making sure no two planes get dangerously close. Approach controllers carefully manage aircraft as they come into close proximity before landing at the airport, ordering the queue and making sure they land in a safe and timely fashion. Aerodrome controllers talk the pilots through takeoff and final descent, and will also direct the aircraft to and from their gates and holding areas.
A professional qualification is required to become an air traffic controller, and a basic standard of secondary education. This standard varies from country to country, but in the UK five GCSEs grade A*-C (inc. maths and English) are required.
In the UK, NATS (the major ATC provider) will receive 3,000 applications in each of their four yearly intakes, with qualifications ranging from GCSEs to postgraduate degrees. These 3,000 will be narrowed down to around twenty fully qualified ATC, through a series of rigorous tests and at least three years of training. Learn more about the NATS programme here and a range of tests to see if you have what it takes here.
The training usually takes a minimum of three years, but for some of this the trainee will be paid. During validation training, after the initial year, many training courses will offer accommodation, benefits and a basic salary of up to £20,000. Upon validation this can rise to £30,000-£35,000. Career progression can be swift, and with three or four years of experience post-validation, Air traffic controllers can earn between £45,000 and £50,000.