Job type

Air traffic controller

£17k - £50k

Typical salary

45 – 47

Hours per week

Air traffic controllers manage the airspace to make sure flights take off and land safely and on time.

More info

  • Help guide aircraft to and from their destinations
  • Take responsibility in a high pressure environment
  • Work with aeroplanes and the latest technologies

You'll be managing and monitoring the flights coming in and out of a section of airspace from a control centre on the ground, communicating with the pilots of planes from around the world.

You will use highly sophisticated radar and radio communication equipment to communicate advice, information and instructions to pilots. You will guide the aircraft as it travels, using radar to track its exact position, keep it safe in the airspace and provide the most efficient route.


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

1. Area controller in a regional control centre, where you'll be tracking and guiding aircraft through your sector.

2. Approach controller, where you'll be managing aircraft as they approach the airport. 

3. Aerodrome controller in a control tower, helping pilots land, 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 could work in an airport control tower and may be expected to stay at your desk or workstation for set times before taking a break. You may also be asked to work in different locations by NATS according to demand.

Due to the responsibilities involved, this role can be stressful and challenging. Air traffic controllers are subject to the Rail and Transport Safety Act, which sets strict limits on blood-alcohol levels, and drugs are forbidden. Random testing can take place.

You'll need

This role is exciting, complex and challenging, with high levels of responsibility, so you'll need to stay calm under pressure and have excellent organisational skills. This job would suit you if you love aircraft, technology, and have a logical and organised mind.

To get into this role you could do an air traffic controller higher apprenticeship.

To become a qualified air traffic controller you'll need an air traffic control licence from the National Air Traffic Services (NATS).

To get started you can apply for a place as a trainee with National Air Traffic Services. To become a trainee controller, you'll need to be 18 years old, have 5 GCSEs including English and maths, pass a medical examination, and get security clearance.

You'll need to relocate to Fareham in Hampshire while training. Once you qualify, you could work anywhere in the UK. Initial training takes up to 1 year and further training will continue while working.

You might also be considered for training if you have relevant aviation experience as a military air traffic controller, or military or commercial pilot.


With experience, you could move into training and assessing new controllers, or become a supervisor or unit manager. Senior air traffic controllers' salaries can rise to over £100,000 at larger airports. You could also move into operations management.