Air traffic controller

air traffic control officer (ATCO)

Career outlook for

Figures and forecasts for roles at the same level, which require similar skills and qualifications.

Average UK salary

Currently employed in Scotland

Jobs forecast

This information is supplied by LMI For All, where data is currently available for Scotland.

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

Hours

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.

Environment

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

Full-time

Part-time

Self employed

Here are some of the skills that people in this job would be most likely to have:

  • Communicating with people
  • Working as part of a team
  • Accuracy
  • Using computers
  • Solving mathematical problems

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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.

Qualifications

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.