Air Traffic Control

The Role of an Air Traffic Control Officer (ATCO)

When we think of Air Traffic Control, it’s quite common only to consider the person stood in the Control Tower, who we see every time we go to the Airport – actually, it extends much further than this.

Pilots require support from ATC in order to operate safely. The industry also requires ATC to ensure the efficiency of airports and the skies all over the world. With the ever-increasing volume of traffic, managing flights is a complex and sometimes pressurised job.

Air Traffic Controllers are broadly split into two separate specialisms – some ATCOs use radar, amongst other technology, to track and communicate with whilst aircraft en-route, whilst others guide aircraft onto approaches and manage them once they’re on the ground.

ATCOs responsible for the en-route phase of flights are known as Area or Terminal Controllers, whilst controllers involved in the landing and ground phase of flight are known as Approach or Aerodrome Controllers.

How do I apply?

Applications can be made either through the NATS website, or by applying for individual roles, should you already have the required training and experience, as they become available at non NATS aerodromes.

Before applying to NATS, it’s worth checking that you meet their strict eligibility criteria. Becoming an ATCO means you’ll be required to pass a European Class 3 medical, details of which can be found on the NATS eligibility criteria page. You must also be aged 18 or over, and have a minimum of 5 GCSEs at C or above, including maths and english.

Click here to access the NATS application form

NATS ATC Trainee Process Explained

Want to join the NATS ATC training college to become an ATCO?

The National Air Traffic Services (NATS) are the biggest UK employer for ATCOs, providing ATC services and consultancy solutions in and out of the UK. NATS train their own ATCOs at Fareham College and the various ATC units they operate. Trainees are paid for training and guaranteed employment after successfully completing the course, although they do not get to choose their specialty or the ATC unit they will work at. 

The selection process to become a NATS trainee consists of the following stages:

  • Online application
  • Stages 0 and 1: Online aptitude tests
  • Stage 2: Assessment centre
  • Stage 3: Interview

You must pass each stage in order to continue to the next one. Failure in any of the stages means you will have to wait two years before you can reapply, and you cannot have more than three attempts in total. Note that there might be a waiting period of several months between each stage.

Stages 0 and 1: Online Aptitude Tests

After your NATS application form has been submitted you will receive an email invitation to sit online tests. You have three months to complete these tests. 

Stage 0: numerical and verbal reasoning and error checking

The numerical test measures your ability to analyse numerical data. It provides tables and charts followed by questions requiring basic arithmetic operations. The verbal test consists of short text passages and different types of questions assessing your language and understanding of the main points in the text. In the error checking test you need to decide whether two columns or rows of numbers and letters contain errors or not.

Stage 1: diagrammatic and spatial reasoning

The diagrammatic reasoning test presents input-output diagrams. One component in the diagram, either input, operator or output, will be missing, and your task will be to figure out what it is. In the spatial reasoning test you will need to find the odd shape out of several rotated shapes in each question. These tests have time constraints as well.

Stage 2: Assessment Centre

Passing the NATS aptitude tests will be followed by an invitation to attend an assessment centre at Fareham. This will be a long day consisting of three different tests. Passing each test is essential to move on to the next one. If you don’t get a good enough score, you will be asked to leave and try again in two years’ time.

ATC knowledge

You will be sent papers to study in advance with all the relevant materials, which will include technical details of different aeroplanes, airports and other ATC related subjects. The test will consist of about 30 multiple-choice questions referring to these papers. 

FEAST

The First European Air Traffic Controller Selection Test (FEAST) by Eurocontrol is a computerised test used by over 40 European civil and military organisations. It assesses the knowledge, skills and abilities of applicants for training that are relevant and necessary for the ATCO job.

There are three different sections in the FEAST: A cognitive abilities and English test, an ATC work sample test, and the FEAST Personality Questionnaire (FPQ), assessing personality characteristics relevant in the training of ATC students.

DART

The Dynamic ATC Radar Test (DART) simulates actual ATC work. You are presented with a radar screen where you can see several aircrafts. Your task is to guide some of those aircrafts both safely and efficiently to specific checkpoints. You will have to make sure you avoid bringing aircrafts too close to one another and take into account different traffic and navigation constraints. The difficulty level will increase as the test progresses, so you will have to control more aircrafts simultaneously and more check points to get them through. Eventually you will even have to perform some mental arithmetic calculations as you are controlling the aircrafts.

Stage 3: Interview

In this last stage you will attend the assessment centre for an interview carried out by HR as well as ATC trained assessors. You will be required to provide evidence of your achievements in different areas in life and present a genuine interest to become an air traffic control officer. You may also be given realistic scenarios and asked to provide your insight and suggest possible responses. 

Facing a panel of people about to judge your behaviour is never a pleasant experience. See how our assessors can help with our interview preparation services. If your performance in this interview is satisfactory, you will be asked to stay for a scenario-based group exercise

The very last step of this process will be the medical and security check-ups. Non-native English speakers will also need to sit an additional English test.

Who Provides Air Traffic Control in the UK?

NATS are the leading provider of Air Traffic Control Services in the UK.  They are responsible for the UK’s area and terminal control and also for aerodrome control at a number of major UK Airports. Some UK Airports provide their own Air Traffic Control Services, and so in some instances you may have to apply to a specific airport for an aerodrome controller role.

Air Traffic Control Training #1

NATS is approved by the CAA to provide the following air traffic control training courses:

Initial Training 

  • Basic course
  • Aerodrome Control Instrument (ADI) rating course
  • Approach Control Surveillance (APS) rating course
  • Area Control Surveillance (ACS) rating course

Endorsement and Continuation Training 

  • On the Job Training Instructor (OJTI) course
  • ATC Competency Examiner course
  • College Assessor and Verifier course

English Language Proficiency 

  • NATS is approved to assess the English Language Proficiency for Air Traffic Controllers at all levels of the ICAO language proficiency ratings scale.

What skills do I require?

There’s no one particular type of person who makes the perfect ATCO. NATS take on a mixture of different people, from various different backgrounds.

The minimum academic requirement to become a NATS ATCO is 5 GCSEs at C or above, to include maths and english.

Perhaps more important than academic ability is the need to be able to work under pressure, think in three dimensions and process information quickly and accurately. To try and decide whether you have the aptitude to become a controller, NATS have developed a series of online games to try.

Interested in a Career as an ATCO?

NATS have created an infographic on becoming an Air Traffic Controller, and the selection process. View it here 

Pay and Benefits

NATS offer an attractive salary and benefits package from the moment you begin training with them.

Training

Once you join as a Trainee Air Traffic Controller, you’ll earn a basic salary of £13154.40, alongside a benefits package – including a contributory pension scheme, generous annual leave (28 days plus national holidays), as well as a variety of voluntary benefits. NATS also provide a weekly payment of £60* to cover expenses during your training, and some applicants may be eligible to a further £1000* on completion of the college based training.

At the completion of the college based training, trainees are posted to NATS units for further training, where the salary rises to £17,066* and £20,479*, dependant on where you are based.

Qualified

On completion of all training, the salary rises to £32522-£36247, dependant on the ATC unit. On the third anniversary of passing training, subject to validation, the salary rises to £46461-£51781, plus shift pay of £5543.

It’s worth noting that with increments, you can potentially earn over £100000 at the NATS Swanwick Centre and Heathrow Tower.

Source: NATS
*Based on 2012 rates

Available Jobs

NATS post available careers on their Vacancies Page

Other Air Traffic Control careers can be found

Applying

To apply for this position applicants have to meet our minimum entry criteria including having 5 GCSE’S at Grade C or above including English and Mathematics and be 18+ at the time of submitting their application.

We recommend candidates try and gain exposure to the Aviation industry and either gain work experience or participate in hobbies and activities that have transferrable skills to being an Air Traffic Controller.

If candidates successfully reach Assessment day-Stage 3, they will be required to draw upon these skills and experience during the competency based interview.

For further information on the role of an Air Traffic Controller please visit http://www.nats.aero/careers/atc/

Source: http://www.nats.aero/

ATC Interview Questions

  • Describe a time in the tower when you saw a potential conflict or issue. How did you help to prevent the issue from becoming an actual problem?
  • Have you had to deal with an emergency situation in the tower before? How did you handle the situation?
  • If you were to witness a major injury or accident in your daily life, what would be your first action?
  • Describe a time when you had a conflict with a coworker. How did you handle the conflict?
  • Tell me about the most stressful situation you have had at work. What did you do in the situation? Is there anything you would have done differently?
  • Describe a time you worked with your coworkers to solve a problem.
  • How do you deal with stress in your daily life?
  • Do you prefer to work alone or with colleagues? Why?
  • Do you enjoy shift work? Are there certain hours of the day during which you would prefer not to work?
  • What kind of supervisor do you prefer to work with?

How to answer Interview Questions

The questions will usually start along the lines of “tell me about a time when you”. This will be followed by those competencies, so it is important to be familiar with these so that you can prepare.  Asking about soft skills such as teamwork, negotiation and communication is especially popular for graduate job interviews.

A lot of the questions will require you to think about past work experiences you’ve had. For those who are applying for internships, apprenticeships or have no previous work experience, you can still talk about extra-curricular activities, what you achieved while being a member of a university society, or school projects you have been involved in, as an example.

The answer to these questions will usually be between a minute and three minutes long.

S – tell them what the SITUATION was

T – Explain what the TASK was that you had to do

A – Tell the interview panel what ACTION you had to take and why it was effective

R – Finally, tell the interview panel what the RESULT was following your actions. Always try to ensure that the outcome or result was positive. By following the S.T.A.R structure for responding to interview questions you will be ensuring that your responses are both concise and relevant.

Air Traffic Control Training #2

The CAA list two approved providers of air traffic control training:

Global ATS (Gloucestershire Airport) is approved by the CAA to provide the following air traffic control training courses:

Initial Training

  • Basic Course
  • Aerodrome Control Instrument (ADI) rating course
  • Approach Control Procedural (APP) rating course
  • Approach Control Surveillance (APS) rating course

Endorsement and Support Training

  • On the Job Training Instructor (OJTI) training course
  • ATC Competency Examiner course
  • College Assessor and Verifier course
  • Unit Assessor and Verifier course

English Language Proficiency 

  • Global Aviation Training Services (ATS) Ltd is approved to assess English Language Proficiency for Air Traffic Controllers at all levels of the ICAO language proficiency rating scale.

English Language Raters Course

  • Upon successful completion of this course the Rater will be able to assess at all levels of English Language proficiency for Air Traffic Controllers in accordance with the ICAO language proficiency rating Scale.

Games to help you prepare

NATS have developed a series of mini-games to help you decide whether it’s the kind of career that might be right for you. They test a range of basic cognitive skills which are required by Controllers:

Air Traffic Control Useful Links