Air traffic controller: job description

Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:37

Air traffic controllers are responsible for ensuring aircraft move safely along major air routes and when arriving and departing from airports.

Air traffic controller: job description

What does an air traffic controller do? Training | Graduate salaries | Typical employers of air traffic controllers | Qualifications and training required | Key skills and qualities

Air traffic controllers maintain radio/radar contact with aircraft pilots, providing them with advice, instructions and information about weather conditions and flight, ascent and descent paths.

Typical duties include:

  • tracking aircraft locations using radar equipment
  • maintain communication with pilots at critical times during flights
  • tracking weather and hazards that could affect flights
  • responding to emergencies.

As an air traffic controller, you can specialise in either area control, approach or aerodrome control. These roles differ slightly:

  • Area controllers work in control centres and manage flights once they have started to climb to their maximum altitude.
  • Approach controllers tend to work at airports in the control tower, guiding planes as they depart their airport and as they land.
  • Aerodrome controllers also work in airport control towers, working alongside approach controllers as planes land and dealing with traffic on the ground.

It’s likely that you’ll work shifts, which can involve unsociable hours. Once you’re a qualified air traffic controller, you could be posted anywhere in the UK.

Graduate salaries

Trainee air traffic controllers earn around £18,000 if they train with NATS, the main air navigation service provider in the UK.

Once you’ve qualified, your salary will rise to around £39,000 and will continue to rise with experience.

Typical employers of air traffic controllers

  • NATS control centres
  • Regional airports
  • The armed forces.

Jobs are advertised by NATS and a small number of specialist jobs boards. Airports may also advertise roles from time to time.

Qualifications and training required

To qualify for training with NATS, you need to be over 18 and have (or have the equivalent of) at least five GCSEs at Grade 4 or above (previously A to C) or Scottish National 5s at grade A to C, including English and Maths. While a degree isn’t required, you need a high level of concentration and commitment to take on the large workload of a trainee, and a degree might prepare you for this.

You will need to pass a medical and a series of assessments before you can start the course.

Training begins with 12 to 18 months of college-based training, including practical and theory orientated learning. You will then be posted to an operational unit to continue with practical training, before gaining an air traffic controller licence. Afterwards, you’ll work at an operational unit.

Key skills and qualities for air traffic controllers

Recruiters will be looking for:

  • the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time
  • problem-solving skills
  • excellent communication and teamworking skills
  • the ability to work quickly, accurately, calmly and decisively under pressure
  • motivation and self-discipline.

Next: search graduate jobs and internships

View our graduate jobs and internships and don't forget to register with targetjobs to get the latest job opportunities, internships, career advice, courses and graduate events based on what's important to you.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

People reading this also searched for roles in these areas:

Related careers advice

undefined background image

We've got you

Get the latest jobs, internships, careers advice, courses and graduate events based on what's important to you. Start connecting directly with top employers today.