Air traffic controller Air traffic control officer

Air traffic controllers track and manage planes during take-off, landing and in flight.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £17,000 to £50,000 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: 37 to 40 per week

1. 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 must:

  • be 18 years old
  • have 5 GCSEs (A* to C) including English and maths
  • pass a medical examination
  • get security clearance

NATS has more information about becoming an air traffic controller.

2. Skills required

You'll need:

  • maths and IT skills
  • the ability to work calmly under pressure
  • communication skills to give instructions to pilots
  • the ability to interpret information from different sources to assess situations

3. What you'll 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.

4. Salary

Starter: £17,000 to £21,000

Experienced: £32,500 to £36,000

Highly Experienced: £46,000 to £50,000

Salaries depend on where you work and shift allowances.

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns 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.

6. Career path and 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.

Last updated: 26 September 2016