Controlling the complex and busy airspace in the UK safely is a huge task. Only the best will make it as fully validated Air Traffic Controllers.

All who apply to be an air traffic controller at NATS go through a rigorous recruitment, assessment and training programme to ensure they have the right skills and abilities to do their job in maintaining safety in the sky.

We typically attract around 3,300 applicants to fill one course of 20 trainees. Of those, only around 15 will pass every stage and validate.

It takes around three to four years from the first application stage to validation for successful candidates.

Our air traffic controllers will be featuring in the TV series Skies Above Britain. If you’re inspired by them, below is an infographic we’ve created to show you the process to become a validated air traffic controller.

Part of this process includes aptitude tests. Why not have a go at some of our online games to see if you’ve got some of the skills and abilities that we’re looking for.

If you’re interested in a career in air traffic control, find out more on our Careers webpage.

Here’s what one of our students who has been through the early stages in the application and is towards the end of his on the job training in approach radar had to say.

Jake Longstaff

Jacob Longstaff

Jacob Longstaff, a Level 3 Student ATCO at Belfast International Airport, said: “I’d always wanted to be an ATCO since I was very young, the college was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, harder than my masters!

It is, however, so rewarding when you come out the other end. I’d recommend it to anyone – just be prepared to put the work in! It’s definitely a dream come true.”

Or you can see what some of our other air traffic controllers, who have years of experience as fully qualified ATCOs, have to say about on our Meet a Controller webpage.


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deart sir/ ma’am, have a question in mind and was wondering if you may answer it. From this info-graph, there are three streams under basic training, but yet after advancing onto OJT, there are only two left. So, my question would be how are Approach Controllers recruited under the NATS system? Looking forward to your reply.

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