ATC - How to Apply

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

The Application Process

The first stage involves error checking, along with verbal and numerical reasoning.

If you’re successful at the earlier stage, you’ll be tested on your spatial and diagrammatical reasoning.

If you’re successful in both our online tests, you’ll be invited to an Assessment Centre at the NATS headquarters in Fareham, Hampshire. Before you arrive you will be sent an information pack to study.  On arrival you will take an ATC knowledge test based on the information you have learnt. If you successfully pass this, then you’ll be asked to undertake a computer-based assessment from Eurocontrol called FEAST. This tests various skills you’ll need as an Air Traffic Controller.  You will also take a personality assessment as part of FEAST.

If you’re successful in FEAST, you’ll be invited back in the afternoon for another computer-based test called DART.

If you’ve passed the tests above, you’ll be invited back to take part in three further assessments. They are:

  1. a technical and competency based interview
  2. A personality profiling interview
  3. a further Eurocontrol computer test called ‘multi-pass’.

This is a very important stage and it’s essential that you’re able to provide evidence of your achievements, whether in a formal work capacity or in other areas of life. Trained assessors, such as Air Traffic Controllers, HR representatives and members of the Human Factors group will score your responses.

If you’re successful in all the previous stages, you’ll be given a conditional offer of employment, which depends on your obtaining a Class 3 Medical Certificate and security clearance.

You’ll be asked to complete some basic medical information and if this is acceptable, you’ll be invited to book for a medical at the NATS Swanwick Centre.

Once you’ve passed the medical, you’ll be placed in a pool of applicants waiting to be allocated to a course and NATS start the process of security vetting and reference checking.

You can only apply once. Don’t be too disheartened if you don’t make it through. Due to the very high cost of training, NATS have to be as certain as possible about our selection decisions.

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.

Aviation Insider airtraffic control

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