Air traffic controller

air traffic control officer (ATCO)
Transport, distribution and logistics

Career outlook for air traffic controller

UK Salary Ranges





Currently employed in Scotland


Salary information is provided by the "National Careers Service". "Oxford Economics" supplies job forecasts and employment figures. Due to COVID-19 the jobs market is constantly changing. Some of the information may not reflect the current situation.

What's it like?

You would calmly and carefully guide aircraft pilots during their take off, their flight and landing

You'd help them avoid other aircraft and deal with difficult weather conditions so the crew and passengers arrive safely and on time.

You'd be responsible for giving clear instructions to make sure that aircraft travelling through UK airspace are kept a safe distance apart.

You'd also respond to emergency distress calls, working under pressure to help the aircraft land safely. For example, this might include instructing and guiding a light aeroplane that has lost its way in bad weather.

There are three specific roles for air traffic controllers.

If you work as an area controller you'd be based in a regional control centre where you would track and guide aircraft safely through your sector.

As an approach controller, you'd manage aircraft as they get close to the airport and arrange them into the correct landing order.

As an aerodrome controller, you'd work from a control tower and give pilots instructions for landing as they descend. You might also have ground control duties. For example you'd direct the aircraft on the runway after landing and before take off, and guide them to and from parking stands and holding areas.

This is a responsible job where you'd need to concentrate. You'd receive and need to interpret and check a lot of information quickly.

Working conditions


You would normally work 40 hours a week on a shift basis, including days, nights, weekends and public holidays. During a shift, you might guide aircraft for up to two hours, followed by a half-hour break.


You would be based in a flight control centre or airport control tower, spending most of your time monitoring aircraft and talking to pilots.

UK employment status





Self employed


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  • Verbal communication
  • Working with technology
  • Problem solving
  • Working with numbers
  • Observation
  • Sorting
  • Developing a plan
  • Taking responsibility
  • Analysing
  • Understanding

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Getting in

Entry requirements for courses can change. Always contact the college, university or training provider to check exactly what you'll need.


Training course with the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) or with the armed services. To get into this training you will need qualifications at SCQF Level 5 or above.

Useful subjects

  • English (required)
  • Maths (required)
  • Science subjects
  • Technologies subjects

You will also need

To get into the NATS training course you must pass a number of initial online tests.If you get through these, you'll be invited to an assessment centre for further tests and interview.

You will also need to pass a medical examination and get security clearance before being offered a job.