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Air Traffic Controller Apprenticeship

Air Traffic Controller Apprenticeship

Apprentice air traffic controllers help manage all aspects of an aircraft’s flight in controlled airspace, taking responsibility for the aircraft’s safety and maximising efficiency.

You will use modern radar and radio transmission technologies as an air traffic controller to give pilots advice, information, and instructions. Then, you’ll help guide the aircraft, using radar to determine its exact position, keep it safe in the air, and discover the most efficient course.

Few air traffic controllers work from airport control towers, while most work in area control centres. The role comprises a great deal of responsibility and requires a great deal of focus.


Throughout your apprenticeship, you may help:

  • make sure safe distances are maintained between aircraft
  • keep in radio contact with flight crew and give out instructions
  • prevent collisions between planes and with other obstacles
  • handle emergencies
  • monitor data.


  • Apprentice air traffic controllers earn a salary of £17,000 with NATS.
  • On completion of training, you can expect a salary in the range of £37,014 to £41,253, location dependent.
  • Senior controllers with substantial experience can potentially earn over £100,000 (including shift pay) at NATS busiest units.

Working hours

Air traffic controllers usually work between 37 and 45 hours a week, but this is spread out over days, nights, weekends and public holidays.

Working environment

You could work in an airport control tower or a control centre.


Qualifications you can achieve as an apprentice air traffic controller include:

  • Level 5 Air Traffic ControllerEntry requirements for this level include 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A levels, or equivalent, for a higher or degree apprenticeship. This qualification will take 15 months to complete.


On a air traffic controller apprenticeship, you’ll learn:

  • concentration skills
  • knowledge of transport methods, costs and benefits
  • the ability to use your judgement and make decisions
  • the ability to accept criticism and work well under pressure
  • excellent verbal communication skills
  • complex problem-solving skills
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • the ability to think clearly using logic and reasoning
  • to have a thorough understanding of computer systems and applications.


NATS is the main employer of air traffic controllers. It’s a public-private partnership between:

  • the government, which owns 49%
  • the Airline Group, which owns 42%
  • UK airport operator, LHR Airports Limited, which owns 4%
  • NATS staff, who own the remaining 5%.

Professional development

You will be approved as a trainee air traffic controller if you pass the NATS assessment stages and attend one of their colleges in Hampshire, Gloucester, or Jerez, Spain.

The length of your training is governed by the specialisation you choose and how quickly you complete the different phases, which include a combination of practical and theory-based sessions. However, it usually takes 12 to 18 months to complete.

Following that, you will be assigned to an operational unit whose location is decided by company needs; as a result, you must be prepared to relocate if necessary. Following that, you will continue with practical training until you have validated and obtained your ATC licence.

During your training with NATS, you will be paid a salary and a weekly allowance to help pay your living costs.

If you do not study through NATS and instead go via a private course provider, you will have to pay for the training, but you will normally be able to choose your area of specialisation. After completing your basic training, you can apply for trainee employment with various air services operators, where you will continue your studies.

All air traffic controllers must maintain their knowledge and skills once qualified. This means you’ll continue to take training classes or get in-house training throughout your career.

Career prospects

Air traffic controllers with experience can transfer to larger, busier airports. Opportunities to ascend to the manager role may also exist, such as becoming a group supervisor or manager of a watch or unit. You would be responsible for supervising the work of other controllers in these positions.

Other possibilities are working in a college or assessment unit, teaching and assessing recruits, or serving as a mentor to a recruit on the job.

There is minimal progress across the different specialisations of air traffic control since training is specialised to the particular role and is expensive. Consequently, controllers often return to the discipline they were first trained in.

Working in air traffic control in different European Union countries is a possibility. Although English is the global language used in air traffic control, knowing the language spoken in the nation where you want to work may be advantageous.

Updated on January 4, 2023

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