Safety is our number one priority at NATS so it takes a special person to be a fully validated Air Traffic Controller.

All of our Air Traffic Controllers go through a rigorous recruitment, assessment and training programme to ensure they have the right skills and abilities to do their job.

We recruit for Air Traffic Controllers quarterly, typically attracting 3,000 applicants. Of these only 20 will pass every stage and validate. It usually takes between three and four years from first application to validation for successful candidates.

We’ve made the infographic below to help illustrate what applicants need to do to become an Air Traffic Controller. If you’re interested in a career in air traffic control, find out more at

Click the infographic to enlarge it.


You can download a pdf of the Becoming an Air Traffic Controller infographic here.

Find out more about careers in NATS at


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Chris Lawrence

Has the recruitment process changed? When I went through it a few years ago there were no set numbers from stage to stage, if you passed, you passed. This graphic seems to suggest that only a set number get through each stage? So from 3000 applicants there are only a Max of 25 allowed in?




I always wanted to know how many are able to pass each test. This graphic has been very useful for me. Thank you Claire.


Thanks for your comment. Yes these numbers aren’t fixed – they’re indicative based on averages.

We just wanted to illustrate how many people tend to pass each stage and how tough the process it. But as you say there are certainly no limits – if you’re good enough you will make it through!



Adam Spink

I’ve been getting comments regarding this post, and everyone seems to read it the same as Chris and myself; that these are the numbers permitted through each stage. It might be worth altering the infographic to ensure the fact that this is the historical average is clear to everyone.


Hi Adam, I head up the Digital Communications Team in NATS who made the infographic with Claire.

You make a good point – and you’re right. It’s not a case of the Top 1700 get through, then the top 600 get through etc. The numbers are purely indicative based on historical averages.

There are criteria – but if candidates pass these at each stage – they move onto the next. So the numbers going on to each stage will fluctuate up and down around those shown in the infographic.

I’ll update the infographic with a note to that effect following your suggested words and look to post it later today or tomorrow. Thanks again for the feedback and sorry for any confusion.




Hi, I have always wanted to become an ATC, with only one thing stopping me. The location of work at the end of the three years.

Perhaps some kind of infographic would also be useful in this case? Showing individuals how the process works, and how likely you are to end up in a preferred location (if that’s an option).

I think this is a real decider and such an important factor for many people, as you don’t exactly know where you’ll end up having put so much work into it. Location, location, location as they say!

Thanks for the feedback Tes – we’re conscious that this infographic doesn’t go into detail as to what actually happens at the college – i.e. what you are taught and the skills you are trained and assessed in.

We’re already talking in the team about doing a future infographic on that – and that would probably be the best place to address unit/location postings and how that process works. Watch this space!



Luke Egleton

Hi, Ive been keen to find out more information on becoming an air traffic controller. I haven’t taken my GCSE’s yet but I’m very interested. What qualifications would be ideal for becoming an air traffic controller.

Hi Luke – there’s lots more information at – but in terms of qualifications you need 5 GCSE passes (A-C) which must include Maths and English.



mrs sheryne redding

Thank you so much for all this information – my son has wanted to be an ATC from the age of 6. He is now 11 and still to this day all he wants is to become an ATC. He is constantly talking airplanes and airspace and this site will help him no end to making his dream come true. Keep up the great work and thanks xx



Mark Skarratts

Really like the infographics. Have Pinterested these.

Hi Mark

Glad you like them. Have you looked at our Pinterest Boards? There are lots of aviation pictures and facts, which may appeal, as well as infographics.




Someone should have checked Altrincham was spelt correctly.

Ah hah! Good spot Paul – will amend!



Ben Dent

Hi, I am under 18 but am interested in becoming an ATC. Are there any specific subjects (other than English and Maths, which are compulsory anyway) that I have to study to be eligible and do well?




hey I was wondering once your qualified for the job do you get to work around where you live or could they place anywhere in the uk?

Vanisha – We have lots of information on the careers section of our website, especially in the FAQ section. The answer to the question you are asking though can be found at the following link: In short, you will need to be posted where you are needed so NATS will decide your posting.

Ben – you need a minimum of 5 GCSEs (or equivalent) including maths and English and then have to pass the assessments. Its important to have the right aptitude too. Have you had a look at the games on our website and the discussions on our NATSCareers Facebook page? Both may help you decide if you have what it takes. Good luck with your exams.



kristian glover

Hi I am leaving the Royal Navy and have sixteen years experience as a radar operator can I apply and how



Jacob Henry

when are the 4 intakes per year?



Danny SeventySeven

Hi there. Is the ‘5 GCSE rule’ set in stone or can they be offset by ‘equivalent’ qualifications? In my case, it’s a long time since I was at school and without going into a long, drawn out story I have 3 GCSEs at ‘C’ or above (including English and Maths) plus a ‘B’ graded A Level. However, I have served 16 years as a police officer and have several professional qualifications including City and Guilds recognised courses passed and OSPRE National Sergeant’s exam passed. Are these sorts of professional qualifications taken into account if there is any shortfall in GCSEs? Many thanks.




Hi there I am 16 years old and have had an interest in taking up atc as a career choice. But I was still curious about one thing. I am a British passport holder but I am writing IGCSE exams out of the uk will I still be able to join the NATS programme.

@Kristian – That sounds like useful experience so I encourage you to look at our ‘Being a controller’ section to find out more and check the eligibility criteria and information.

The link is here:

@Jacob The intakes are roughly each quarter – but dates can vary. If you register and begin the process of assessment we will let you know when the next stage of the process is open.

Again, find out more here:


You need to be at least 18 years old before you can apply and also eligible to work in the UK. More information about eligibility is available here:

Also if you are unsure whether your qualifications meet the minimum of 5 GCSEs including maths and English you can check here:



David Maskill

So is the recruitment based entirely on stratified quota? I.e. a “certain” amount of applicants will ‘get through’ each ‘stage’? Or is it entirely centred around the sole applicant achieving the best he/she can and getting ‘through’ each stage no matter the amount of applicants who have passed along side them.

Many thanks!




Hi, I am just wondering what you would suggest the best route forward for a school leaver. The site is very clear regarding GCSE requirements, but if you are unable to apply until 18, what are the preferred next steps at college?

It’s not ‘stratified’ – if you’re good enough you will get through each stage. The infographic is based on historical averages and in reality the numbers shown will fluctuate – moving up and down – across intakes.



Dominic Lewis

Hello, I’m currently 17 and I intend to apply next year for the winter intake, do you know if the entry requirements could change between now and in a years time?

Once you have passed your GCSEs the next stage in applying, when you are over 18 years old, will be passing the aptitude tests. You cannot really revise for these, but if you get through the initial stages of applying you will be given material to learn. In the meantime, as you are really keen on getting a head start, why not try to learn as much as you can about aircraft characteristics, how they fly and the different types as well as understanding more about the weather and flying (some of this information is covered elsewhere on our blog). Have you also tried the games on our website as they will help you prepare too as well as being fun?

You may like to study for A levels or even a degree, to gain other qualifications and give yourself more options should you be unsuccessful or decide that a career as an Air Traffic Controller is not for you after all. Ultimately, it is your aptitude that matters rather than any particular further qualification in any specific subject. Motivation and hard word will take you a long way. Good luck.

Currently, there are no plans to change entry requirements in a year’s time. They have been the same for a while now. However, I would still advise you to check the eligibility section on the Careers pages of the NATS website prior to your application ( as you will need to make sure you meet the medical standards as well as the academic ones.




The application tests when are they?



Duncan Courts

It’s good to see NATS providing so much information to potential trainee controllers. Are NATS still not accepting applications from qualified controllers though?

At the current time we are not accepting applications from qualified controllers but please keep an eye on the NATS Careers site for opportunities that may arise in the future.

The application process begins with an online assessment. If you meet the eligibility criteria and have not applied and failed in the last 24 months, you can register at any time. I would suggest you start by looking at the link about applying to join us:




I’m 16 and I’ve wanted to become an ATC since I was 5 years old. I want to apply for the college when I complete my A levels, but I’m wondering if I could apply a few months before I will finish these? How long does the application process take? Thanks.

Thanks for leaving a comment and it’s great that you want to join us one day. You don’t have to wait until you’ve finished your A-Levels, you can apply at any time from the day you turn 18. I hope that helps, but if you have any other questions, just shout.




@ Claire

Thanks for all the info. FYI the “A rough guide to comparing qualifications in the UK and Ireland (pdf)” link on the “I’m not sure if I meet the minimum requirements…” page is broken.




Hi, as a mature candidate I would be interested to know at which point in the training you can start earning, would this be when you start on the job training? Thanks

On joining as a trainee air traffic controller you’ll get a basic salary of £11,967.36, along with an attractive benefits package. This will include everything from a contributory pension scheme and generous annual leave to a whole host of voluntary benefits and family friendly policies. As a student, you’ll also get a weekly accommodation payment of £60*. And you’ll be eligible for a further £1,000* when you’ve completed your college-based training to cover travel and other expenses.

Initially you’ll be on a trainee contract, which can be terminated if you fail to meet training standards. Bear in mind that building societies and banks will not normally grant loans (e.g. mortgages) against this contract. Also, insurance policies that indemnify against job loss with respect to loans will not pay out if your contract is terminated due to failing assessments.

After the college training phase, you’ll receive a salary of between £17,066.07* and £20,479.28* depending on where you’re posted. Once you’ve completed your training, your salary will rise to £32,522.89* – £36,247.28*, again depending on the unit. When you become an ATCO, on your third joining anniversary, subject to validation, your salary will rise to £46,461.27* – £51,781.83* plus shift pay of £5,543*. After qualifying, you could potentially earn over £100,000* (inclusive of shift pay) at Swanwick and Heathrow.

More detailed information on benefits will be provided when you join us (* = 2012 rates).



Nafeesa Xec

I have a undergrad degree in Broadcast media. Also have a diploma in Access to humanities and Social sciences. I have had GCSE Previously but not in Maths. Can I still apply to be an air traffic controller. I do have an option of doing a GCSE in Maths as I am a mature student. Please advise




Would a geography degree be beneficial for this?

Whilst it is useful to have a degree, and a degree in geography would help you, it is not a requirement. You must have a minimum of 5 GCSEs, which must include maths and English. You will also need to meet the other eligibility criteria and pass the necessary assessments.

You must have a minimum of 5 GCSEs including maths and English (or GCSE equivalent) If you have the option of doing a maths GCSE as a mature student and want to be an Air Traffic Controller it would be useful to take up this opportunity so that you can be considered once you have gained the qualification.



Luke McWilliams

Hi guys, I’m curious to know when the online application process is re-opening as the assessment process is being upgraded. Is there a date for when I can apply?



leigh batcheldor

Hi, have just stumbled across the statement regarding the assessment process, and consequently the application process being on hold. Are you able to disclose how long this is going to be on hold for? Many thanks.

@Luke and @Leigh
Currently we do not have a new date. Please keep an eye on our website, Facebook page ( and Twitter stream (@NATSCareers) as we will announce on these when the assessment process has reopened following the upgrade. Thanks for your patience.




Hi – I’m interested in the process of being hired by NATS for experienced Air Traffic Controllers from other countries. Does NATS hire controllers from outside the UK and if so, what is the protocol involved? I have 15 years experience as an ATC at a medium-sized airport in Canada.
Thanks for any feedback.




I just passed through the Stage 0 & 1 assessments and now have to wait for an assessment day. However, the e-mail I was sent today says that they don’t have any date until September, since it’s the last day of September tomorrow, should I assume that the e-mail hasn’t been updated or does it refer to September 2014?

Congratulations on passing the first stage. We will not be having an assessment day in September as you so correctly note, however, at this time we have still to confirm a new assessment date. We will be notifying candidates when a new date has been arranged and recommend that you keep watching our @NATSCareers Twitter stream and/or NATSCareers Facebook page as we will also be putting updates out through these channels.




Hi, I am looking into applying however the site mentions being posted to Swanwick or Prestwick & I’m just trying to clarify at which point you would get posted to either of these. Is this just for the on the job training section or is this if you complete full training & are offered a job? Thank you

Full information is available on our website. As you are from Canada, you will need to demonstrate that you are eligible to work in the UK.




Hi, I’ve recently passed the first stage online assessments and am waiting to hear back on a date for the next stage. I was just wondering are stages 2-4 all conducted on the same assessment day? I was also curious if there are any mock assessments available with regards to the stage 2 computer tests and the stage 3 scenario based assessments.

Assessments are conducted on different days and there are no mock assessments available, although you are welcome to play the games on our website. You will typically hear back about the assessments within 30 working days.

Our training is carried out in our college based in Hampshire. The decision as to where you are based depends on the skills that you have and where NATS as a business needs you to be posted. The role of an ATCO is a mobile grade so you can be posted anywhere in the country. Your posting will ultimately be decided by NATS.





I am 30 years old and looking for a change in career, do I need to have any experience to apply to be an Air Traffic Controller or would it all be based on the assesments?

Thanks for your interest in becoming an air traffic controller. You will need to meet the criteria on our website such as being eligible to work in the UK and holding the equivalent of 5 GCSEs grade C or above (including maths and English). There is no specific experience required providing you can pass the assessments, as we train the successful applicants.

Please check the link below for more information about meeting all the relevant eligibility criteria:




Hi. … Claire. … referent to your answer to @jaime….. Are those benefit each months or yearly. .?




My name is Yonela Diko and I am 16 years old doing grade 10.I currently live in South africa,my province is Eastern Cape and my town is Ntabankulu.According to my carreer choice I want to be an ATC.Can I please get help on how to archieve my goal..




Hi i am 17 , i know i have to be 18 and I have the entry requirements except my age, including grades eye sight etc. But I was wondering what I could do before i am 18 other than school, to give me a better chance to stand out or gain a better chance at succeeding in the various stages. Maybe work experience etc. Thank you 🙂



Angel S

Hi. I completed stage one over a year ago and have not heard anything regarding an invitation to stage 2 (I only have my email stating that I passed stage 1). Is this normal for applying to be an ATC?



Paulo Teixeira

Hi, just want to know if with 37 years of age can I still apply? I have no previous experience of the job but I’m very interested. Many thanks , Paulo

Hi Paulo – there is no upper age limit for applications, so please go ahead! More information on the requirements is on our website: Good luck! Paul



Martine van den Heuvel

Hi, In the infographic is says that there are 4 intakes a year. I have been reading a few forums and it seems this is not the case at the moment. People are saying they have been waiting over a year to get to an assessment date. Are you able to clarify the current situation? Many thanks!



Eric Serrano

Many Thanks for this infographic, it is useful. Now, I would like to know, what is the website games “score” which says if we have the right skills to apply.

Intakes are based on the business requirements and so may vary from 4 a year on occasion. If you are in the process you will be notified when an assessment date becomes available. Thank you for your interest in NATS.

Glad you found the infographic useful. There is no game score which will show you have the right skills to apply to become an air traffic controller. However, an ability to do well shows that you will probably have some of the skills we seek. You will need to meet our eligibility criteria and have the right aptitude and attitude. To find out about your eligibility you may like to visit our website, especially the page about eligibility:

Congratulations on passing stage one and thank you for your patience with regards to stage 2. Please keep hold of your email with regards to passing stage 1 as we will be in touch. We release assessment dates according to business needs, so sometimes the delay is slightly longer than at other times.



elsa chambers

What happens if you stumble at the last stage of training? Do you get a chance to do an extra course or are you just kicked off the course?

If you are not selected to be trained as an air traffic controller you can have up to three attempts, with a 24-month gap from the date at which you fail.

If you are selected and stumble during the actual training then we will look at your case, taking into account all relevant factors, including regulatory requirements. Your training may be terminated. Because training is very expensive we have a very vigorous selection process to reduce the likelihood of this happening to those on the course, but that doesn’t mean that some candidates may stumble during their training.




Is mathematics compulsory if you want to become an air traffic controller?

Yes it is. The minimum requirements to train as an air traffic controller are the equivalent of 5 GCSEs, which must include Maths and English, grade C or above.





I have passed stage 0 and 1, and I know I’ll get an email when assessment centre dates become available for stage 2.

However, I was wondering if you even have a rough idea when the next dates might be for stage 2? Is it likely to be in a couple of months, half a year, a year? Just a rough/likely time frame, so I can decide what to do in the meantime.

I saw on the FAQs that there were some in September.


I’m afraid I can’t give you any guidance with regards to a date or time frame currently. The best advice I can give you is to continue to watch for the invitation by email.




Can people from outside UK apply for training with NATS?




Hello…I just want to know if there’s any room in your selection process for Air Traffic Controllers who already hold an ICAO certified license but are not from the UK or Europe. Thanks




Hi Guys, love the website and graphics, great to visualize the recruitment process. Just passed Stage 0/1 so awaiting the assessment day now. I’m old school and actually undertook the last year of O’ Levels & CSE’s, so I’m assuming O’ Level passes count as equivalent GCSE’s ? Otherwise its back to school for me ! I do have a PPL so I’m hoping at some stage in the recruitment process this might help my cause. Anyway keep up the good work and hope to see you soon




Dear Sir or Madame,

I was wondering how many point should I get in games posted on your website to say I am a good candidate?

Thank you in advance for your answer.




Hi, I would like to know if there are any cut off periods when applying to become an atc? Or isit all year round? Would i need to apply by a certain time?




Once I complete my nats training can I choose which airport I can work in for example I’m willing to move to farhem for my training but after that can I work in manchester airport as a atc

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