Frequently asked questions

Air Traffic Control
Is being a controller a stressful occupation?

If you have the right skills and competencies for this role, you won't find it stressful. It can be pressurised at times but this will be mitigated by the structure of your working day. Rest periods are factored in to ensure plenty of downtime and you can leave the job behind at the end of the shift. There is no in-tray to take home. In fact, the incidence of stress-related illness in ATC is lower than many other occupations.

As technology increases, will ATCOs become redundant?

Certainly for the foreseeable future there will be a need for a human interface between the computers and the aircraft. Technology and the creation of new tools and systems for controllers will make their jobs easier, rather than getting rid of them altogether.

Will new systems diminish the role of ATCOs?

The use of new systems will increase the capacity of the airspace in the United Kingdom. The requirement for skilled Controllers remains the same.

What is going on at a European level and what does it mean for NATS?

European skies are incredibly fragmented, with many providers for such a relatively small geographic area. A European initiative called Single European Sky aims to reduce this number. Increasingly, countries are talking about mergers and collaborations in ATC systems and air space design. It is an exciting time and it represents an enormous opportunity for NATS.

What is the Private-Public Partnership?

The Airline Group, BAA and the Government have become the Strategic Partner with NATS for the PPP. The Airline Group comprises of the following UK airlines: British Airways; bmi; Virgin Atlantic; easyJet; Monarch; Thomson Airways and MyTravel.

Will I be an Airport or Area Controller?

We will ask for your preference before you are allocated to a course. However, due to business requirements you may be allocated to train on a discipline you did not request. 80% of our controllers work in our area control centres, so chances are that you will probably be based in either Prestwick or Swanwick.

Will I get to pick where I work?

This will be up for discussion towards the end of your college training. Realistically though, we have to send controllers to our units where the demand is highest. Your choice of posting will therefore ultimately be decided by NATS.

When will I hear the results of my aptitude tests?

The results will be issued within 15 working days of the end of the test session. If you meet the required standard you will be invited to the second stage of the process to undertake some computer tests. If successful at these, you will be invited to the final assessment centre which consists of a group exercise and an interview. If you are not selected, please do not be too disheartened; the selection process is extremely rigorous. Due to the very high cost of training, we have to be as sure as we can about our selection decisions.

If I am not selected can I apply again?

Yes, subject to a maximum of three attempts at the selection process. A 12 month gap must be left between the initial test dates.

What are the interviewers looking for?

The main areas the interviewers will be looking at are ATC Motivation, Conscientiousness and Rule Adherence, Decisiveness and Confidence, Emotional Stability, Error Awareness, Openness to Learning and Development, Planning, Decision Making and Problem Solving, and Team Working. Click here to see our section on hints and tips to help you prepare for our selection process.

How long before I know the results of my interview?

The results will be issued within 15 working days of the interview.

When would I be likely to start my training?

We are looking to recruit people for courses starting April/May, July/August, October/November and February each year. There is a slight problem with those candidates who are aged 18, as they have to be 21 in order to hold a radar licence. Whilst we will of course let you go through selection, if you are successful you will be posted to an Area course which will ensure you are the correct age on graduation.

How long is the training course?

The college course lasts approximately 11 months for Area Trainees and Terminal Control Trainees, six months for Aerodrome Trainees and nine months for Aerodrome/Approach Trainees. This is not the end of the training and there is a period of validation training at the posted operational unit. The validation period is dependent on the unit and how you progress.

Is all the training conducted at Bournemouth?

All the college training is Bournemouth based - there may be occasional visits to units and short external courses offsite.

How is the split between Approach and Area achieved?

The number of trainees recruited is determined by NATS' business needs. The biggest requirement is for Area Controllers, so the majority of trainees are normally streamed to this Area discipline. We will ask for your preference before you are allocated to a course but you must be prepared to go where there is a business need.

Will the single discipline training limit my promotion prospects?

Obviously there will be some restrictions. For example, an Airport Controller would probably not be eligible for posts in an Area unit and vice versa, but there will undoubtedly be promotion opportunities in both disciplines.

Will there be a chance of Cross Training at a later date?

ATCO training is very expensive so when you are trained and competent in one discipline, there is a strong likelihood that you will remain working in that discipline throughout your career as a controller. If, in exceptional circumstances, someone is selected to move from an Aerodrome to Area unit or the other way round, then all the necessary cross training will be given.

What happens if I fail an assessment?

Your progress through training is assessed continually by means of theoretical exams, practical assessments and oral tests. Successful completion of these assessments will be required for continuation of training. The course of action following failure of an assessment is determined on a case-by-case basis taking account of all relevant factors including regulatory requirements and it could result in training being terminated.

How much work out of the College hours does the course involve?

Many trainees are surprised by the volume of work required both at the college and in the evening. There is a considerable amount of legislation that must be learnt. It is unlikely you will be successful at the course unless you are prepared to commit at least two to three hours per night, plus some time at the weekend. This is particularly true in the earlier courses where there is a higher theoretical content.

What is the success rate at the College?

The College is achieving an overall success rate of about 66%. However we are continually reviewing the selection system and training courses to improve the training success rates.

Do I have a chance to say where I will be posted?

Obviously as you come towards the end of your college course you will be asked where you would prefer to be posted. While we always try to take personal circumstances into account, our operational needs must come first. Therefore, you must be prepared to work anywhere in the UK.

Terms and conditions
What are the salary and salary prospects?

When you join us as a Trainee, you'll get a basic salary of £10,782*, along with an attractive benefits package including a contributory pension scheme, generous annual leave, a variety of voluntary benefits and family friendly policies.

In addition, Trainees also get a weekly accommodation payment of £60* which is paid monthly in arrears during college-based training over a maximum payment period of 18 months. These payments will stop once you are posted to a unit. You'll also be eligible for a further £1,000* on successful completion of college-based training to cover travel and other expenses.

After completion of the college training phase, you'll receive a salary of between £15,450* and £18,540* depending on which unit you are posted at.

Once valid at a unit, your salary will rise to £29,443* - £32,814*, again depending on the unit.

When you become an ATCO - on your third joining anniversary, subject to validation - your salary will rise to £42,061* - £46,878* plus shift pay of £5,543*. After qualifying, you could potentially earn over £91,000*
(inclusive of shift pay) at Swanwick and Heathrow.

Outer London Weighting is also payable at Heathrow.

*2009/10 rates.

What are the annual holidays?

Your holiday allowance will be 28 days per year plus public holidays. These are programmed into the training course. Requests for holidays outside of these dates will not be approved. On graduation as an ATCO, the annual leave entitlement is 28 days plus the usual public holidays. As a qualified ATCO, requests for annual leave are considered on an individual basis against the watch manning requirements.

Is accommodation provided at the College?

No, but there is a plentiful supply of guest house and furnished let accommodation in the Bournemouth area. Prior to the start of the course, we will give you access to an online list of approved accommodation.

Trainees are strongly advised not to locate themselves long distances away from the college. Evidence has shown that excessive commuting and the fact that the trainee has not been available for group study activities after college hours, have caused some past trainee failures.

Will I be on a standard NATS contract whilst at the College?

No. The initial contract is a trainee contract which can be terminated in the event of failure to meet training standards. It should be noted that building societies and banks won't normally grant loans (e.g. mortgages) against this contract. Also, insurance policies that indemnify against job loss with respect to loans will not pay out if contract termination is due to assessment failure.

Does the company operate a Superannuation Scheme?

Yes, we operate an excellent contributory Superannuation Scheme which has a comprehensive benefits package. Details will be supplied on appointment.

Does the company provide maternity leave?

Yes, we have very good maternity provisions - better than those required by statute. They include 18 weeks' full paid maternity leave followed by eight weeks half pay plus statutory pay, and then a balance of unpaid leave up to 26 weeks from the end of the paid period. In view of the training costs, we want to encourage as many people as possible to return to work. NATS also offers paternity leave.

Career prospects
Are there opportunities for career advancement?

Yes, although it should be pointed out that, in the main, we are recruiting operational controllers and some 80% will remain operational throughout their career. However, opportunities do exist for those who are keen to move onto other areas within NATS. You could, for example, become a Group Supervisor, or even a manager, of a watch or a unit. We are committed to developing our staff, so a range of development options are available to those who wish to progress along these lines.

Does the job include shift work, and what are the shift patterns?

Air Traffic Control (ATC) is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation, so you must therefore be prepared to work shifts. A typical shift pattern covering a 40-hour working week, including breaks, has a mixture of night, weekend, early morning and late afternoon shifts. About 80% of ATCOs work shifts, many throughout their whole career.

Employment location
What location will I work in?

As you come towards the end of your college course you will be asked where you would prefer to be posted. While we always try to take personal preferences into account, our operational needs must come first. Therefore, as the role of an Air Traffic Controller is a mobile grade you must be prepared to work anywhere in the UK.


In this section, we’ll aim to answer your queries on everything from being an Air Traffic Controller (ATCO), the selection process and hints for interviews to career prospects and training.


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