Should You Become an Air-Traffic Controller? | Underrated Jobs

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This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Underrated Jobs
  • Should You Become an Air-Traffic Controller? | Underrated Jobs

In our ongoing series highlighting underrated career paths, we aim to shed light on professions that often go unnoticed but play a vital role in our society.

In this post, we turn our attention to the fascinating world of air traffic controllers.

Understanding what Air Traffic Controllers do

Air traffic controllers are the unsung heroes who oversee the safe and orderly movement of aircraft in the sky and on the ground.

They act as the essential link between pilots, ground staff, and air traffic control systems. By managing airspace, coordinating arrivals and departures, and providing real-time guidance, these skilled professionals play a crucial role in preventing collisions and ensuring the efficient flow of air traffic.

Mastering the Art of Precision and Decision-Making

Air traffic control is a high-pressure environment that demands exceptional precision and quick decision-making abilities.

Controllers must process vast amounts of information, including weather conditions, aircraft performance, and air traffic regulations, while maintaining constant vigilance. With split-second choices, they guide aircraft through complex airspace, adjusting routes and altitudes to maximize safety and efficiency.

Skills and Qualifications Needed

Becoming an air traffic controller requires rigorous training and specialized expertise. Most countries have dedicated programs that encompass both theoretical knowledge and practical simulations to prepare aspiring controllers.

These programs emphasize subjects such as aviation regulations, meteorology, navigation, and communication skills.

Candidates undergo intense training to develop the necessary cognitive abilities, situational awareness, and multitasking skills required to excel in this demanding profession.

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

in England, you’ll be expected to attend one of NATS colleges for your training.

NATS Training

NATS, short for the National Air Traffic Services, is a leading air navigation service provider based in the United Kingdom. They are responsible for managing and controlling the safe and efficient movement of aircraft in UK airspace.

NATS plays a critical role in ensuring the smooth operation of air traffic by acting as the essential link between pilots, ground staff, and air traffic control systems.


the apprenticeship route is a new scheme worth mentioning for parties interested – NATS has opened applications for its Early Careers scheme, including Graduate Schemes, Industrial Placements, and Apprenticeships.

With nearly 50 roles available in various fields, NATS aims to attract talent from diverse backgrounds. The entry requirements for the Graduate Scheme have been expanded to include a 2:2 degree, widening the pool of applicants.

NATS is committed to fostering diversity and has partnered with recruitment platforms like Vercida and Fantasy Wings to reach a broader range of candidates. The application period for the 2023 intake is from September 8 to October 31.

Standard training

The training journey starts with a classroom-based phase that focuses on the fundamentals of air traffic control, including aircraft types, weather, aviation law, and airspace structure.

This initial phase provides a solid foundation for trainees to understand the intricacies of their future role.

After the classroom phase, trainees progress to the simulator training.

This is where the real challenge begins. Trainees face complex scenarios and must apply their theoretical knowledge in practical simulations. The simulators help develop essential skills such as decision-making, spatial awareness, and the ability to quickly respond to changing situations.

One of the remarkable aspects of training as an air traffic controller with NATS is the diverse backgrounds of the trainees.

Some come from aviation-related fields, while others have backgrounds in various industries. The common thread among trainees is their shared love for challenges, continuous self-improvement, and a drive to excel in their work.

While there isn’t one specific skill or ability that defines a perfect air traffic controller, having good spatial awareness and the ability to visualize a 3D picture in one’s mind can be advantageous.

Additionally, the capacity to respond quickly to changing events, maintain focus, and make swift decisions is crucial in the dynamic environment of air traffic control.

Becoming an air traffic controller offers a unique and fulfilling career path. It is a job that often intrigues people due to its distinctiveness and importance. The ability to contribute to aviation safety and take on challenging responsibilities is part of what makes the role so appealing.

Throughout the training journey, trainees experience a sense of accomplishment as they see their skills grow and improve.

The transition from theoretical knowledge to practical application in the simulators is particularly rewarding. Trainees witness firsthand the impact of their training as they navigate through various scenarios.

Once trainees progress to live traffic training, they get the opportunity to work with real aircraft in operational settings. At airports like Belfast International Airport, where the airspace is complex and diverse, trainees face new challenges every day.

The experience becomes more enjoyable as they interact with the team, receive support, and tackle the puzzles that air traffic presents.

In summary, NATS provides aspiring air traffic controllers with an exciting opportunity to enter this rewarding profession.

Regardless of their previous experience or academic background, individuals can embark on a comprehensive training program that equips them with the skills and knowledge necessary for success.

With each step of the journey, trainees witness their growth, face unique challenges, and contribute to the safe and efficient management of air traffic.

Training Completion and Salary

On completion of training, you can expect a salary in the range of £37,000 to £41,253, location dependent.

Senior controllers with substantial experience can potentially earn over £100,000 (including shift pay) at NATS busiest units.

In addition to competitive salaries, air traffic control careers often come with a range of benefits.

These may include healthcare plans, retirement contributions, paid time off, and other perks depending on the employing organization and specific country’s regulations.

It’s important to note that salaries can vary based on the location and specific demands of the air traffic control unit. Busier airports or regions with higher air traffic volumes may offer higher salaries due to the increased workload and responsibilities.

Shift differentials are also common in air traffic control, as controllers often work irregular hours, including evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays. These shift differentials can contribute to increased earnings for controllers.

Skills Needed for Succes as an Air Traffic Controller

Air traffic controllers must possess a unique set of skills to handle the intensity of their work. They must remain calm under pressure, maintain focus during peak traffic periods, and effectively communicate with pilots, dispatchers, and other stakeholders.

Superior spatial awareness, exceptional problem-solving skills, and the ability to work well within a team are crucial for success in this dynamic field.

Rewards and Challenges Faced

While often overlooked, the air traffic control profession offers numerous rewards. Controllers experience the satisfaction of contributing to the safe arrival and departure of thousands of passengers every day.

The job provides a stimulating work environment with ever-changing scenarios, offering constant opportunities for learning and growth. Additionally, air traffic control careers often provide competitive salaries, benefits, and opportunities for advancement.

Navigating Challenges: The Demands of the Job

Air traffic control comes with its fair share of challenges. Controllers must work irregular hours, including nights, weekends, and holidays, to ensure continuous coverage.

The nature of the job also exposes them to high levels of stress and mental fatigue. Controllers must undergo regular assessments to maintain their proficiency and stay up-to-date with technological advancements in the aviation industry.

To read more about air traffic controllers, the challenges they face, and how you may become one, visit our blog in the description below, after this video ends.

The Future of Air Traffic Control

Looking ahead, advancements in technology, such as automation and artificial intelligence, are set to transform the field of air traffic control.

While these innovations may bring improvements in efficiency and safety, the human element of air traffic control will remain irreplaceable.

Skilled controllers will continue to be the guardians of the skies, adapting to new technologies and ensuring a seamless and secure aviation experience for years to come.

Air Traffic Control may be one of those industries that you should be considering if you are interested in AI Proof Industries.


Air traffic controllers epitomize the concept of underrated jobs. Their unwavering commitment to safety, meticulous attention to detail, and exceptional decision-making skills make them the unsung heroes of the aviation industry.

While salaries may vary based on location, experience, and the employing organization, air traffic control offers competitive compensation packages that reflect the demanding nature of the job.

From entry-level positions to senior roles, air traffic controllers can expect to be rewarded for their expertise, precision, and dedication to ensuring the safety and efficiency of our skies.

Would you become an air traffic controller?

Do you think you can handle the stress that comes with the position?

do let us know, along with any other questions you may have.

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