Air Traffic Controller

Job Description:

Air traffic controllers give information and advice to airline pilots to help them take off and land safely and on time.

Job Category:
Automotive & Aviation

What you will do:

Your tasks will vary depending on which type of controller you become. There are 3 types:

  • area controller – in a regional control centre, tracking and guiding aircraft through your sector
  • approach controller – managing aircraft as they approach the airport
  • aerodrome controller – in a control tower, helping pilots land and park, and line up for take-off

Air traffic controllers also respond to emergency distress calls, guiding planes to the runway and helping pilots to land safely.


You’ll need:

  • knowledge of transport methods, costs and benefits
  • to have a thorough understanding of computer systems and applications

As well as:

  • concentration skills
  • the ability to use your judgement and make decisions
  • the ability to accept criticism and work well under pressure
  • excellent verbal communication skills
  • complex problem-solving skills
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • the ability to think clearly using logic and reasoning
Illustration of employee looking at workspace

Entry Requirements:

You’ll need an air traffic control licence from the National Air Traffic Services (NATS). It takes around 3 years to train and you’ll complete your training while working.

To become a trainee controller, you’ll need:

  • to be 18 years old
  • In the UK you will require 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent, including English and Maths
  • a medical examination
  • security clearance

The following university subjects are related to this career too:

  • Aerospace engineering and Aviation
  • Information systems

Working Hours and Environment:

You’ll usually work 40 hours a week on shifts, including days, nights, weekends and public holidays. During a shift you’ll usually guide aircraft for up to 2 hours, followed by a half-hour break.

You’ll be based in a flight control centre or airport control tower.

Career Path & Progression:

With experience, you could move into training and assessing new controllers, or become a supervisor or unit manager.

You could also move into operations management.