Jake Longstaff is proof that if you want something hard enough you should never give up. Raised in Edinburgh, he has always loved aviation and dreamt of becoming an air traffic controller since the age of 13.
“As soon as I turned 18, I sent my application off. I was so excited that I might finally get a chance to go do what I’d always wanted.” So it was a terrible disappointment when Jake learned he hadn’t been selected to go through to the next round. “I was absolutely gutted, but didn’t want to give up.”
Told he needed more life experience, Jake decided to make the journey up the Forth to Stirling University, where he spent five years spreading his wings while studying a Masters in Politics. He then reapplied to NATS and was accepted onto the training programme at the second attempt. “I was so excited I couldn’t wait to get started.”
New trainees spend a year at NATS’ training college in Hampshire learning the foundation skills and theory of air traffic management. Time on the state-of-the-art simulators is mixed with classroom and study time culminating in a number of practical, written and verbal assessments. “Everything at the college is around getting you ready to do the job for real. Safety is such a high priority there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ controller, so you either make it or you don’t.”
Now having graduated from the college Jake is a trainee at Belfast International Airport, about to validate as a fully-fledged air traffic controller. But what was it like controlling that first real life aircraft? “Actually speaking to a pilot over the radio and giving instructions for the first time was a little surreal, but mostly very exciting. I couldn’t really dwell on it though, as soon as I’d done the first I was straight onto the next one!”
So would Jake recommend air traffic control as a career? “You have to be prepared to put the work in, but I’d absolutely recommend it. I have to pinch myself everyday.”
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