Air traffic controller Manchester

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Sam is an air traffic controller at Heathrow airport. She decided on the career after an air traffic controller visited her school to give a talk about the work.

What is your main role?

I'm part of a team that controls the movement of aircraft in and around Heathrow and the surrounding areas, both on the ground and in the air. There are five control positions covering arrivals (landing traffic), departures (departing traffic), ground movement control (moving aircraft on the ground) and delivery (giving out initial clearances to departing aircraft).

What equipment do you use in the control tower?

I use radios to communicate with the aircraft, telephones to co-ordinate with other controllers and outside agencies, and radar screens to watch aircraft in the air and on the ground.

What hours do you work?

I work a ten-day shift pattern, which is six days on and four days off. The days on consist of two mornings, from 7.00am to 2.00pm, two afternoons, from 2.00pm to 10.00pm, and two nights from 10.00pm to 7.00am. I am also closely regulated as to how long I can work without a break. Working as a member of a team we rotate responsibilities throughout the shift. For instance, I work in one control position for about one hour, followed by a break, before moving to another position.

What is it like working in an air traffic control tower?

It is fine. I sit in the top of the control tower surrounded by glass, watching aircraft through the window. I sit behind a console with the radar screen. There are usually five air traffic controllers, one supervisor, two air traffic control assistants and two lighting operators in the tower at any one time.We work together regularly, so the atmosphere is good.

Why did you choose this career?

I became interested after listening to an air traffic controller for the Royal Navy talking about his job at a school careers fair. The job seemed more exciting than the other careers that were being highlighted at the time.

What did your training involve?

I went to the air traffic control college, where I completed four courses (Aerodrome 1 and 2, Radar Skills and Approach Radar). I then spent a year training at Heathrow before sitting my final examination.

What skills and qualities do you need?

You need patience and a calm personality, with the ability to think quickly. You also need to work closely with the others in the team.

What are the challenges in your work?

Every day presents challenges. Even though the same flights might be scheduled, something different will always be happening.We could be using a different runway configuration, the weather might be bad, parts of the airfield may be unavailable for use – the list is endless.

What are your ambitions for the future?

Maybe in the future, I'd like to train on radar, but I know that I always want to be an operating air traffic controller, as I'd miss the buzz of controlling if I was working in an office.

Sam's route to a career as an Air traffic controller

  • Degree in Psychology.
  • Worked for two years as accounts assistant while making applications for air traffic control courses.
  • Accepted onto air traffic control course and became a fully qualified air traffic controller.

Sam's Air traffic controller tips

  • Don't give up applying. It took me two years before I was finally accepted onto a course.
  • Get as much background knowledge as you can.
  • Visit airfields, towers and radar centres to gain more information about the job.

Air traffic controller related jobs












  • Airline pilot.
  • Coastguard watch assistant/officer
  • Helicopter pilot.
  • Railway train driver.
  • Royal Air Force (RAF) officer.
  • Royal Navy/Marines officer.

Air traffic controller salary information

  • Salaries for air traffic controllers while training are around £19,000.
  • With experience, it is possible to earn around £40,000. A senior officer earns up to £75,000.

Becoming an Air traffic controller

  • To become an air traffic controller, you need to be at least 18.
  • You should have five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3) including English and mathematics, and have continued studying at a higher level.
  • Suitable qualifications include two A levels/AVCEs/three H grades.
  • Training is at the College of Air Traffic Control in Bournemouth. The course combines classroom instruction and practical exercises. If you successfully complete the course, you will be posted to an operational unit as a trainee air traffic controller.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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