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Career profile: Air traffic controller

Career profile: Air traffic controllerAir traffic controllers are vital to the safety of the skies - and they're well paid, too.

What do air traffic controllers do?

Air traffic controllers track aircraft through the skies, manage the routes that they take and manage landing and takeoff to make sure that all aircraft are flown safely. Military air traffic controllers may have other duties, too, but this article will deal with civilian air traffic control jobs.

What do I need to become an air traffic controller?

Air traffic controllers need at least five GCSEs at grade C or higher (or an equivalent). These must include English and Maths.

There are also medical requirements for air traffic controllers. For example, you need to have no sign of heart disease, or neurological problems like epilepsy, and you need normal colour vision. You can find out more about these requirements on the National Air Traffic Services website.

You can apply to be an air traffic controller online.

Application and training

There is a longer application process for air traffic controllers than for many other jobs. The steps are:

  • Online test: an automated test to make sure you are eligible for the job.
  • Assessment days: three assessment days, including theoretical and practical tests. After each day, you'll be given your result within a few weeks and can then book in for the next day.
  • Medical and security clearance: if you make it through the assessment, you’ll need to be checked for medical problems and assessed by security.

If you're successful, you won't start training straight away: you'll have to wait to be allocated to a course. The training starts in a college setting, and depending on the specific area you will be working in, college training can take up to a year. After this, you'll be trained by the unit you will be working with.

Air traffic control jobs are very competitive: only 3% of applicants are successful, and you can't reapply for 12 months after a failed application, so make sure you're prepared if you want to go for it.

How much will I earn?

The basic salary while training in college is £11,967.36, plus extra money for accommodation and travel expenses. After this, you'll earn between £17,000 and £20,500 during the rest of your training. This rises again to £32,000 - £36,000 when you finish training. After three years, the salary increases again to £46,500 – £51,800, plus shift pay of around £5,500. This means that an experienced controller at a busy airport can earn over £100,000 a year.


Air traffic controllers are vital to the safety of the skies - and they're well paid, too.