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Air traffic controller: Training

Training to become a fully qualified air traffic controller can take around three years. The actual structure of the training is likely to vary depending on the provider.

Training with private course providers has to be paid for but you can usually choose the area you wish to specialise in, e.g. area control, aerodrome, etc.

If candidates train with National Air Traffic Services (NATS) , they receive a basic wage as the training stages are part of their employment. They may be placed in any location in the UK once a certain part of their training is complete, and the area they specialise in is usually determined by business needs.  

The basic training with NATS usually takes around two months to complete. This is followed by training in the specialised areas. Area control courses take around nine months, approach courses take at least eight months and aerodrome courses take around five months. These are minimum course lengths and some candidates may take longer to finish the training.

Upon completion of this stage, candidates are placed in available positions and continue with training to work towards validation. The time this takes varies depending on the individual and the unit they are placed in.

Candidates are assessed throughout their training through the use of practical exercises, exams and oral tests.

Those from other course providers are able to apply for trainee roles with other air services operators, where they will continue with their training.

Once qualified, all air traffic controllers are required to keep their knowledge and skills up to date. This means they will continue to go on training courses or will receive in-house training throughout their careers. Useful news updates are available from the:

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Written by AGCAS editors
March 2014

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