I first joined NATS in August 2000, moving from a full-time role working in a bank to what was initially a 12-month contract as an Aircraft Control Position Operator (ACPO), a role that we’re currently recruiting for at our Prestwick Centre.

This was quite a change of career direction, and at that time my only experience of aviation, like most of the general public, was the occasional flight abroad during the summer holidays… but the thought of working for air traffic control was exciting and I jumped at the opportunity to join NATS.

The ACPO role was initially described to me as someone who acts as a ‘pretend pilot’ in a realistic simulation to enable Air Traffic Controllers train on new equipment and new airspace. As a keen gamer in my free time, this sounded like the perfect opportunity and role for me. I later went on to find that my gaming skills, such as fast keyboard typing, hand-to-eye co-ordination, quick thinking, and use of a headset to talk whilst performing actions, really helped me in the role.

When my training started, I was joined by a diverse range of people and backgrounds, but within a short space of time we were all familiar with a new range of skills and knowledge including the phonetic alphabet, aircraft types, radio communication, flight levels and an understanding of air traffic principles. Just as in real life, simulations can vary from quiet scenarios to very busy, and no two simulations are identical – especially when simulating emergencies or bad weather!

When working on simulations I used to really enjoy the challenge of keeping up with these really busy exercises, where you could be ‘piloting’ many different aircraft at once, but after the training session, you could relax and reflect on the exercise. As much as I enjoyed the role, I eventually progressed from the ACPO role into an Operational Air Traffic Assistant working alongside Air Traffic Controllers on live sectors, passing information to adjacent sectors and agencies.

Through continued development and progression opportunities, I am now a Transformation Manager, reviewing and improving the way that we support the operation to deliver a safe and efficient service to our customers. I really enjoy working in the aviation industry and I’m proud to tell people that I work for NATS. It is such a dynamic and environment within an industry which impacts so many people; whether frequent flyers, receiving items delivered by air or just those who are fascinated by watching aircraft fly overhead.

I have been fortunate to work with an amazing team of people in my roles within NATS, and to have played a direct part in many projects such as improving the controller simulation training to assisting with airspace design projects right through to the supporting with trying to reduce the environmental impact of flying.

I would highly recommend applying for the role of ACPO, whether embarking on your career path or looking for a change of direction. Moving from a banking background into this role was the best career decision I have ever made; it opened a whole new range of opportunities and experiences that would not have been possible in my previous role.

If the ACPO role isn’t for you, NATS is also recruiting for a wide range of early career graduate roles and placements. Lots of variety – from analytics and HR to future airspace design – and a great way to start a career in aviation.


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Phil Wood

As a retired employee, I can say that this role is an ideal start to a career in NATS. I’ve seen countless people use this extremely interesting and rewarding job as a career starter for many other fantastic roles within NATS.



Jediah Clark

As a keen real-time strategy gamer at NATS, I’d be interested in which games you found were most relevant/similar!



Global Aviation Infrastructure LLC

Thanks for the post. Very informative post it was. Many people will got help from this one.


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