A career where the sky really is the limit...

24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year, our Air Traffic Controllers help keep aircraft flying, passengers travelling, cargo moving and the skies above us safe.

To be a Controller you’ll need a specific set of skills, a calm nature and a healthy dose of self-resilience. But if you have what it takes and commit 100% to your training, an amazing career awaits.

What do Controllers do?

Each year, around 2.5 million flights and 250 million people fly above our heads in UK skies. Our Air Traffic Controllers work with pilots to make that happen quickly, efficiently and, most importantly, safely.

The UK, like many countries, has ‘controlled’ and ‘uncontrolled’ airspace. In controlled airspace, pilots take instructions from Air Traffic Controllers on where, when and how to position their aircraft. Most commercial aircraft operate in controlled airspace.

Meet a Controller

Hear our Controllers talk about the job - career opportunies, work-life balance and the 'buzz'!

The Career
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The Career
Our Controllers discuss what makes a good Air Traffic Controller and the options open to you as you progress in the profession.
The Buzz
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The 'Buzz'
Our Controllers discuss the pace, challenge, enjoyment and satisfaction they get from the job.
The Life
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The Life
Our Controllers discuss the work-life balance including shifts, holidays, flexibility, friendships and pay!
Our amazing everyday
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Our amazing everyday
A number of our people - including Controllers - discuss the pride and satisfaction they feel from helping to keep our skies safe everyday.

Becoming a Controller - Altitude webcast

We've reopened recruitment for trainee air traffic controllers, but what does that process look like and what kind of career can successful candidates look forward to? 

In this episode of our Altitude webcast we explore the whole recruitment process, from understanding the requirements and the application process through to assessment and beyond. We also look at the training, what’s involved and how candidates can best prepare for success.

Two experienced air traffic controllers will share their experiences of recruitment, training and validation and what it’s like to then put that learning into practice looking after some of the UK’s most congested airspace and one of its busiest control towers.

Types of Controller

There are different types of Controllers, with different skill sets and responsibilities based on their roles.

Aerodrome Controllers

Typically based in a Control Tower at an airport, an Aerodrome Controller (sometimes referred to as a 'Tower Controller') is responsible for the safety and movement of aircraft around an airfield. 

They issue clearances to take off and land and route aircraft around the airfield so they can taxi safely between runways, stands and other areas they need to travel to.  

Area Controllers

Typically based at Control Centres (such as those at Prestwick and Swanwick in the UK), Area Controllers manage aircraft at higher altitudes (often five thousand feet and above). They are responsible for aircraft in the climb, descent and en-route phase of the flight. 

Area Controllers issue levels, headings and speeds to separate aircraft, providing a safe and expeditious routing through the sector of airspace that they manage.

Approach Controllers

Approach Controllers are typically based at airports, but those managing the big London airports are based at Swanwick.

They manage aircraft approaching an airport putting them into the most efficient sequence to land. They also manage those that have just departed the airport in their initial phases of flight.

Approach Controllers may also manage flights transiting the airspace around the airport.

Inside Heathrow Tower at dusk

Application process

At NATS we recruit and train people to become valid Air Traffic Controllers and support our operation. The path to becoming a Controller is not a quick and easy one. It takes time and commitment but the rewards at the end make it all worth while.

An overview of the steps you need to follow to qualify is laid out below.

  • Do your research

    Research what the role involves. Does it interest and excite you? Could you see yourself doing it? Do you understand what’s involved in the recruitment and assessment process? Could you commit 100% to training if selected?

    If the answer is yes, then check your eligibility!

  • Check your eligibility

    Before you apply you must check you are eligible.  Do you meet the legal, health, academic and security requirements?

    If you don’t we will reject your application from the outset.  If you do – register online!  

    You must be:

    • 18+
    • Must have the right to work in the UK, without requiring sponsorship. If you’re unsure, check the Home Office guidance.
    • 5 GCSEs at Grade 4 or Scottish National 5’s Grade A-C including English and Maths. -Equivalent qualifications are accepted.
    • Fit enough to meet the necessary CAA medical standards.
  • Register Online

    Complete the online application form and register your details. The form takes 7-10 minutes to complete.

  • Complete stage 1 online assessments

    Having successfully registered and been approved, you’ll be invited to sit nine online tests. These are designed to test cognitive and decision making skills that are important to Controllers.

    If you don't pass this stage, you can reapply after 12 months. You can apply to become a Controller a maximum of three times.

  • Complete stage 2 online assessments

    If you pass the stage 1 assessments, you’ll be invited to an online Situational Judgement Test and Personality Questionnaire.

    If you don't pass this stage, you can reapply after 12 months. You can apply to become a Controller a maximum of three times.

  • Attend an assessment centre

    If you pass the stage 2 assessments you’ll be asked to attend a 1 day assessment day where you’ll take some further ATC related tests, have an interview and partake in a group exercise. This is currently held virtually via Microsoft Teams.

    If you don't pass this stage, you can reapply after 12 months. You can apply to become a Controller a maximum of three times.

  • Complete the college-based training

    If you pass the assessment centre, you’ll be invited to join NATS as a Trainee Air Traffic Controller and attend one of our initial training organisations to embark on your journey towards gaining a Student Air Traffic Control licence.

    The length of college-based training varies depending on a host of factors, including the specialism you take and how quickly you can complete different phases. Most college-based training is completed within a year to eighteen months and includes a combination of practical and theory based sessions.

  • Complete the operational training

    Once you have gained your Student Air Traffic Control licence, you will be posted to an operational unit where your hands-on training continues until you validate and are issued your full Air Traffic Controller license.

    Please remember that Air Traffic Controllers are mobile grades, which means that you may be required to work anywhere in the UK and ultimately this will be determined by the needs of the Company.

  • Congratulations!

    Now you are ready to play your critical part in advancing aviation and keeping the skies safe!

Training at our Prestwick Centre

Working locations

An Air Traffic Controller is a mobile grade - which means that once you validate, you could be posted anywhere in the country. The location will depend on your skills, training and the needs of the business. Typically our Controllers are posted to one of our two Control Centres or an airport where we run the air traffic control operation.

Swanwick Centre

Located in Hampshire, our Swanwick Centre opened in 2002 and is home to around 750 Air Traffic Controllers. The Centre combines:

The London Area Control Centre  which manages en route traffic over England and Wales up to the Scottish border.

The London Terminal Control Centre  which handles traffic below 24,500 feet flying to or from London’s airports. This airspace is among the busiest and most complex in the world. 

Military Air Traffic Control where Military Controllers work closely alongside our Controllers to provide services to civil and military aircraft operating outside of controlled airspace. 

Prestwick Centre

Located in Ayrshire, our Prestwick Centre opened in 2010 and is home to around 350 Air Traffic Controllers. The Centre combines:

The Manchester Area Control Centre which controls aircraft over much of the north of England, the Midlands and north Wales from 2,500 feet up to 28,500 feet.

The Scottish Area Control Centre  which controls aircraft over Scotland, Northern Ireland, Northern England and the North Sea from 2,500 feet up to 66,000 feet. 

The Oceanic Area Control Centre which controls the airspace over the eastern half of the North Atlantic from the Azores (45 degrees north) to a boundary with Iceland (61 degrees north).

Various Airports

Our Controllers provide air traffic services at 15 major UK airports as well as Gibraltar International.

Major airports we operate at include:

  • Aberdeen
  • Belfast City
  • Belfast International
  • Bristol, Cardiff
  • Farnborough
  • Gatwick
  • Glasgow
  • Heathrow
  • London City (via our Digital Tower)
  • Luton
  • Manchester
  • Southampton
  • St Athan
  • Stansted

Training at our College in Hampshire

Salary and benefits

On joining as a Trainee Air Traffic Controller, you’ll get a basic salary of £19,842*, along with an attractive benefits package. This will include everything from a market-leading contributory pension scheme and generous annual leave to a whole host of voluntary benefits and family friendly policies.

Because we recognise the costs associated with accommodation when you’re training, we also provide an annual accommodation allowance which is paid monthly whilst you remain an Ab Initio Trainee.  The monthly accommodation allowance is equivalent to £7,769* per annum.  

Once you’ve completed and passed all of your training (college and unit), your salary will rise to £42,991* – £47,915* and, with increments, you could potentially earn over £100,000* (inclusive of shift pay) at some of our busiest units.

Our standard annual leave arrangements are 28 days per year plus public holidays. More detailed information on benefits will be provided when you join us.

*At 2023 rates.

Controlling at Stansted

Have you got the skills?

Find out if you might by trying our online games...

Being a successful Controller isn’t so much about your previous work experience, it’s about the way you approach problems, handle pressure and adapt to changing situations.

We’ve developed a series of mini-games to help you decide whether it’s the kind of thing that might be right for you.They test a range of basic mental skills required by Controllers. Give them a go!

Shape tracking

Follow the highlighted shape and identify it in a mix with others.


Sequential memory

Memorise the card reveal sequence and play it back as accurately as you can.


Reactive avoidance

How long can you keep the circle from hitting the blocks? It's a challenge!


Gateway game

Move the aircraft in the sequence through the gates without losing separation.


Landing game

Land aircraft on the runway in sequence without losing separation.


Inside our Digital Tower facility

Working towards an apprenticeship

We are currently applying to make part of our Air Traffic Control training an accredited Apprenticeship scheme. Should we be successful, candidates will not only be trained to be competent as Air Traffic Controllers, but will also get a L5 recognised apprenticeship qualification.

In addition to ATC technical skills, the apprenticeship will develop your professional and personal skills in areas such as problem solving, teamwork and communication. The skills, knowledge and behaviours learnt as part of the apprenticeship are as valuable outside of NATS as they are inside.

We will reopen for applications based on business requirement and this will most likely be in 2024.

Yes, you will still be able to book on to an assessment centre, when there is availability to do so.

Yes, you will have the same timeframes to complete Stage 1 and Stage 2.  If you successfully pass Stage 2, you will still be eligible to book onto a Stage 3 assessment centre, when available.

If you have been successful, the Talent Acquisition Team will advise you of available course start dates when they provide you with the verbal conditional offer.  We have courses starting throughout 2023 and 2024.

A member of the Talent Acquisition Team will contact you after the assessment centre to advise if you have passed the assessment centre and will make you a verbal conditional offer for the position of Trainee Air Traffic Controller.

If you fail any of the stages then you will be notified by email. You can then reapply 12 months from the date that you failed, up to a maximum of three attempts.

You will have the ability to take the tests on a laptop or tablet. We do advise that you are in an environment that is free from distractions.

Applicants will need to pass security clearance to SC level and undergo an initial Class 3 medical assessment in entirety. Please refer to the CAA website for medical standards. The CAA and Aeromedical Centres are not able to provide advice on certification for individual queries ahead of a medical assessment.

You have 14 days to take stage one and then if successful you have a further 14 days to take stage two. If you are not successful then you will be rejected from the process and can reapply in 12 months.

There are two tests that take place at stage two. We recommend that you allow 30 minutes for the first assessment (Situational Judgement test) and 30 minutes for the second assessment (Occupational Personality Questionnaire). This is only a guide and neither of these assessments is timed.

There are nine tests in the stage one battery of tests.  At stage one we recommend you set aside 1.5 hours to take the tests in one go. This includes time to read all of the instructions, take the practice tests and then the live tests.  Each of the nine tests lasts between 2 – 10 minutes. As long as you complete each individual test in full then once the results have been transmitted you can go back into the candidate zone and take further tests. You need to ensure that you take all nine tests within 14 days or you will be rejected and won’t be able to apply again for 12 months.

You need to make sure that from the point at which you apply, you can take stage one tests within 14 days and then take stage two tests within a further 14 days or you will be rejected and will not be able to apply again for 12 months.

We would advise that you carry out usual interview preparation and also ensure that you have learned in full the ATC Knowledge test pre learning document as well.  As the assessment centre will be held virtually, we would advise that you ensure you have a good internet connection and that you are somewhere quiet and free from distraction.  It would be advisable to test your technology in advance of attending the assessment centre.  You will need to join using a device that has a camera and a microphone.

There is no specific preparation that we advise for the online tests. We do advise that you ensure that you are in an environment where you can concentrate and are free from distractions.

There is no specific preparation that we advise for the online tests. We do advise that you ensure that you are in an environment where you can concentrate and are free from distractions.

We will be holding stage three assessment centres virtually (online) via Microsoft Teams.

SHL can be contacted on https://support.shl.com/candidate,web form or call using the number + 44 (0) 3301003435.

If you were part way through one of the nine assessments, then you will need to contact Aon on [email protected]. If you have completed a test then you should just log back into the Candidate Zone in our applicant tracking system, ‘Infinite Brassring’ and select ‘assessments’ from the drop down menu.  You can also access the tests from the link in your invite email.

Aon can be contacted on [email protected].

The stage three assessment centre is held virtually (via Microsoft Teams).  At stage three you will take part in four activities. You will take part in an interview, a group exercise and two online tests – an Air Traffic Control knowledge test and a retest of the stage one tests.

At stage two there will be two assessments. The first assessment is a Situation Judgement Test (SJT) hosted by our assessment partner Aon. The second assessment will be an Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ) hosted by our assessment partner SHL.

At stage one you will take part in a battery of nine tests, hosted by our assessment partner Aon. The tests will assess skills such as spatial awareness, logical thinking and reaction speed.

There are three stages to progress through – all of which are online.

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