As Dave Marshall clocked in for work at the Job Centre in Irvine, Ayshire, he could have had little inkling that he would one day end up controlling aircraft at one of the world’s busiest airports.

And yet the 47-year-old who grew up in Beith in Ayrshire has been doing just that – and now is responsible for training the NATS air traffic controllers of the future at the Heathrow Airport air traffic control tower.

Dave is featuring in the BBC2 series Airport Live on four consecutive nights this week explaining some of the challenges that controllers for NATS face every day at an airport running at 98 per cent of its capacity.

It is a long way from his first job in the civil service at the Irvine Job Centre.

Civil Service to RAF

That’s where he got chatting to an RAF recruiting officer and after being convinced to try some aptitude tests found that he had an ability to be an air traffic controller.

He spent the next 15 years on various RAF postings before finishing up at Prestwick where the RAF has its air traffic control in the same building as civil air traffic control company NATS.


He took the opportunity to join NATS in 2000 even though that meant giving up the experience he had gained as a military controller and having to enrol on a full cadetship with NATS at its training college.

Dave Marshall

Dave Marshall

“It was a bit like starting again,” said Dave. “I was exempt a few of the exams because of the transferrable skills I had, but I had to do the rest.”

After a stint as a watch manager at Gatwick tower he switched to Heathrow air traffic control tower in 2007 where he is now the Head of Air Traffic Control Training.

“I am really glad I did my time in the RAF because it gave me a good grounding in self discipline and all the other good things the military teaches you,” he said.

“The training job is fantastic. I take a real professional pride in it – taking someone straight from the college with no experience and bringing them to one of the world’s busiest airports and eventually sitting them down with a head-set on with all the responsibilities that go with that.

“You see young people grow into this position of amazing responsibility but with a fantastic level of ability and training that enables them to do a complex job so well.”


We caught up with Dave last week at Heathrow and video recorded the conversation. You can watch it below:


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John Ellis

I have really enjoyed the series. One of the best documentary i have seen on BBC. incidentally who makes the shirts they (NATS personnel) wear?





My name is Tommy Ricardo Pasaribu, A.Ma, hereby try to apply as your local Air Traffic Controller. I have a Junior Air Traffic Controller licenses spec Aerodrome control and a certified New ICAO Level 4 English Proficiency issued by the Ministry of Transport of the Republic of Indonesia. And how can I apply for air traffic controllers officer

Thanks You



Malcolm Derrick

The shirts are made by T M Lewin, heard a rumour that other NATS motifs may be available to order but not seen anything on the company Intranet.

Hi both – to date the shirts have been made solely for NATS employees but we are looking into making our merchandise more widely available in future.

@Tommy Thank you for your interest. NATS are not currently recruiting for trained and licensed Air Traffic Controllers, but please keep an eye on our Careers site for opportunities that may arise in the future.


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