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Play a vital role in air safety.

This week we take a look at the world of the air traffic controller.


Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs) are responsible for organising the movement of aircraft in the air and on the ground, using radar and radio. Computers are used to provide up-to-date information and help overall air traffic movement. ATCOs work at the main airports, at area control centres and in co-operation with aircraft crews.


ATCOs in area and approach control, work in dimly-lit rooms so they can clearly see the information relayed to them on radar screens. Daylight-viewing radar is becoming more accessible. Aerodrome controllers work in a tower that has a 360-degree view of the area allowing visual contact with the aircraft.

Most ATCOs work sitting down wearing headsets, and work can be intense at peak periods. Working hours vary and will include evenings, weekends and shift work.

Most ATCOs work for the National Air Traffic Control Services (NATS). They need at least five GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3) including English and maths, and two A levels / three H grades or an Advanced GNVQ, a GSVQ Level Three, or equivalent qualifications. Applicants must be at least 18. Eligibility to work in the UK is essential. All entrants must pass both a NATS selection test and a medical examination.

Entry requirements for other employers of ATCOs vary. Some recruit young entrants with at least five GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3), including English and maths, or the equivalent qualifications. Other employers only recruit people with air traffic control experience.


Applicants to NATS must normally be under 27 on the date they apply. Ex-RAF personnel and those with air-traffic control experience are exempt from this upper age limit. There is no set upper age limit for entry to air traffic control work with non-NATS employers.

NATS student air traffic controllers go to the College of Air Traffic Control (CATC) for 74 weeks of training. After their training students begin work at an operational unit, where they receive further practical training. Non-NATS trainees are sent on CATC courses or to the International Aviation Training Centre at Bailbrook College in Bath. They combine college attendance with on-the-job training.


Capacity for intense concentration and a strong sense of responsibility, together with the ability to respond quickly and efficiently under pressure are essential. ATCOs must be able to calculate distances and angles rapidly, have a high level of physical fitness, good eyesight and colour vision, and a clear speaking voice. They work as a team, so the ability to communicate well and establish an easy rapport with colleagues is important.

Skills required include carrying out effective aviation communications, contributing to maintenance and implementation of emergency and security procedures, maintaining flight control operations and managing information, teamwork and resources.


National Air Traffic Services Ltd (NATS). Recruitment Services, T1213, 45-59 Kingsway, London WC2B 6TE. 020 7832 5555/6696. Website:

The Royal Aeronautical Society Careers Centre, 4 Hamilton Place, London W1V 0BQ. 020 7499 3315. Website:
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 24, 2003
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