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Air traffic controller: Entry requirements

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A degree or HND is not a necessary requirement for entry into the role of air traffic controller. Due to the nature of the role, however, a degree that provides a high level of numeracy or technical knowledge may be beneficial.

NATS offers three structured development programmes for:

  • college leavers who have studied at BTEC ND/HNC/HND level;
  • university students on a sandwich year;
  • graduates.

Aptitude is looked for by the trainers and employers of air traffic controllers and they often view this as being more important than qualifications. It is a requirement, however, that candidates have at least five GCSEs (or equivalent) at grade C or above, including English and Maths. They must also be over the age of 18 when applying. 

Pre-entry experience is not required as full training is given for the role. However, a background in office-based work, customer service or communication-based roles may be an advantage.

The majority of entrants train through National Air Traffic Services (NATS) , which has its own set of requirements for entrance. These are partly competency based and are listed on the NATS website as the following:

  • ATC motivation;
  • conscientiousness and rule adherence;
  • decisiveness and confidence;
  • emotional stability;
  • error awareness;
  • information processing capability;
  • numerical awareness;
  • open to learning and development;
  • planning, decision making and problem solving;
  • spatial awareness;
  • team working.

Candidates must also meet certain medical requirements, which include passing a European Class 3 medical certificate. A summary of the eligibility criteria for medical conditions can be found at NATS Careers

It is possible that candidates may pass the Class 3 medical but still do not meet all of the requirements of NATS. In this instance, it may be possible to complete training with another air traffic services provider and then apply for air traffic controller jobs after that. As well as the above criteria, candidates must also show evidence of:

  • the capability to concentrate and think logically over long periods of time;
  • an ability to respond quickly in emergency situations;
  • good oral communication skills;
  • confidence with technology.

Recruitment takes place at various dates throughout the year with the different training providers so candidates should check with individual providers for details. NATS has an intake to their training courses in January/February, April/May, July/August and October/November every year.

The application and selection process for NATS is a rigorous one containing online and paper tests, assessment days, group exercises and an interview. The selection processes with other training providers may vary slightly but will usually be along the same lines and test similar competencies.

NATS have developed a series of mini-games on their website, testing cognitive skills such as shape tracking, sequential memory and reactivity. They measure how you approach problems, handle pressure and adapt to changing situations and may help you decide whether it's a suitable career for you.

Additional general information about the selection process is available from the Guild of Air Traffic Control Officers (GATCO)

For more information, see work experience and internships and search postgraduate courses.

Written by AGCAS editors
March 2014

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