Air Traffic Controller

How to Become an Air Traffic Controller? – Ultimate Guide

Does the sound of bearing the responsibility of flight safety appeal to you? If so, you will find becoming an air traffic controller incredibly rewarding. Undoubtedly, it is a cool job that will get you a lot of respect.

With the lives of everyone on the plane in your hands, the procedure to be a qualified air traffic controller is prudent. If you are considering a career down this path, follow this article to get to know everything about becoming an air traffic controller.

What Do Air Traffic Controllers Do?

Every year, 250 million people fly over the UK skies. Air traffic controllers are the unsung heroes that keep the skies above safe for aircraft, passengers, cargos, and the people living on the ground.

As an air traffic controller, you have to work closely with the pilots to guide them on where, when, and how to position the aircraft. In “controlled space”, pilots rely heavily on your commands so they do not crash with another aircraft.

Pilots listen to the instructions sent by the control tower on the ground to land and take off. It can be a stressful and intense environment. Unexpected situations and emergencies can occur anytime.

An air traffic controller will have to be resilient, calm, and resourceful to solve any treacherous situation that may endanger the lives of everyone on board. Therefore, you need a very specific set of skills for this job.

Also Check: How to Prepare for Airline Test?

How To Become An Air Traffic Controller?

The road to becoming an air traffic controller is not a fast nor an easy one. In the UK, the only way to become an air traffic controller is to obtain an Air Traffic Controller’s (ATCO) license issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The CAA authorizes three training providers to give out the license, which are National Air Traffic Services (NATS), the Global Aviation Training Services (ATS) Ltd, and the Resource Group Ltd respectively.

If you do not want to be an ATCO for commercial flights, you can also choose to become one for the Royal Air Force and become a military ATCO. However, the license for military ATCO is not transferable, meaning you will have to obtain another one for the civilian selection.

Below is the timeline for you to become a licensed air traffic controller:

Research well about your interest

This is not a simple job. It takes dedication and perseverance. If you are unsure about it, you can take a free personality test on Job Test Prep that analyzes your strengths and weaknesses. It gives you an idea of how well you will perform in this field.

Air traffic controllers are well-compensated because of their stressful duties. You will not go very far without putting your full heart and mind into it. You should see if the responsibilities are indeed something that sparks your interests.

Check for eligibility

In the UK, you have to be over 18, have the work to work in the country, have obtained 5 GCSEs at Grade 4 or Scottish National 5’s Grade A-C including English and Maths. You may still be eligible to apply even if you have not finished your studies given that you can show a strong interest in the field as well as a high potential to complete the training successfully.

Submit the online application and the relevant documents

The application takes about 15 minutes to complete. Together with the application, you need to submit relevant documents such as proof of education. Failure to submit all documents may result in a rejection of your application.

Complete the first round of online assessments

Depending on the institution, there are about 8 to 10 online tests in the first round. The tests assess your cognitive ability, logical reasoning, and decision-making skills that are vital to the role.

If you fail, you can reapply again 12 months later.

Complete the second round of online assessments

During this round, a situation-based test and a personality test are administered. You are expected to demonstrate strong leadership skills with the ability to work and think independently under pressure. The purpose of this stage is to evaluate your psychological state and your personality traits to estimate how suitable you are for the job.

Attend a physical interview at an assessment centre

If you successfully pass the first two rounds of online tests, you will attend a physical interview at an assessment centre. This is a one-day test where you will take more ATC tests. A face-to-face interview, as well as some group exercises, will also be conducted.

In this final stage, interviewers will score your performance based on your ability and personality traits. You need to be an excellent team player while being able to handle your own tasks efficiently. Your communication and presentation skills are also evaluated as they are extremely important for your job.

Complete the school-based training

Depending on the specialization you choose or are assigned to, you will be sent to different locations for a different duration to complete your school training. You will learn everything about your niche. A combination of theoretical and physical lessons is given. Usually, the training process takes 12 to 18 months to finish.

Complete the operational training

Once you have completed the school-based training, you can move on to the final stage, which is the operational training. You will be working in the unit of your specialization to obtain invaluable hands-on experience in an actual work setting. Your training is validated by your supervisor and the duration depends on your performance.

Get your ATCO license and start working

Finally, when you are deemed to be qualified after your operational training, you will get your ATCO license and continue to work in the operational unit.

Note that you can only apply to become an air traffic controller a maximum of three times. If you fail three times, your application will be automatically rejected.

What are the air traffic controller exams?

A series of tests are administered as part of your pre-employment process. These tests address various aspects that are crucial to the daily ACTO operation.

The tests you will undergo include:

ATC Aptitude Tests

Although the tests vary depending on the training provider, most ATC aptitude tests are designed to measure your spatial concept, numerical reasoning, logical reasoning, communication and presentation skills, problem-solving skills, the ability to follow commands, performance under pressure, etc.

The aptitude tests appraise your ability to work as an air traffic controller. Since it is a very demanding job with human lives at stake, failing in one test ends your candidacy effectively. Learn more about ATC Aptitude Tests here.

Basic ATC Background Knowledge

Training an air traffic controller is no piece of cake. Each training provider wants to ensure the resources they invest in a student are worth it. Therefore, a test about the basic ATC background knowledge is given.

An interested candidate should already have researched the position well. Hence, they should have no problem answering simple questions about the job duties, the timeline, the content of the training process, and the requirements to get the license.

Candidates who are unable to show an understanding of the job nature will be eliminated. If you are passionate enough to apply and have gone through the first online assessment stage, you should not find this test difficult as it aims to measure your interest in the field rather than your actual ability.

Personality test

The job of an ATCO is often intense. This is not a job for those that cannot handle stress well. You will be dealing with distress calls, emergencies, and aircraft problems. Under any circumstance, a calm air traffic controller can help prevent tragedies.

A personality test is to rate a candidate’s compatibility with the job nature. It includes some personal questions about your preferences and your past. There will be well over 100 questions. For each question, you have to rate how much you agree or disagree with the statement.

From the results, the interviewers will decide if you possess the traits to be an ATCO.

How to pass the air traffic controller exam?

Take practice exams

Job Test Prep has the most comprehensive set of practice tests created to stimulate the real tests given by training providers. Every test is made in accordance with the respective provider’s style and format.

You get 24/7 customer support and additional exercises to strengthen your knowledge in the field. It also includes a detailed comparison of each provider so you can decide which one works better for you.

Taking practice exams beforehand will boost your performance by a mile. It helps you to familiarize yourself with the content, requirements, and answer key. Students have only positive reviews about the study package.

Take a personality test

Take a free personality test to see if your interest aligns with the job. Furthermore, it allows you to get an understanding of how to generate the result needed for the job. You should never cheat on a personality test because it determines how suitable you are for the job. You should be honest with yourself about your interests.

That being said, you should know how your answers will impact the results. Many candidates do not understand how to rate how agreeable a statement is. They end up choosing the most extreme scale for each question. This is not a good sign.

Your answers should not always be extreme or neutral only. There should be a healthy mix of both. It helps your personality traits stand out and make you an all-rounded candidate.

Study well about the role

All training providers have emphasized how interest matters. Possessing the right skills and knowledge are not the only pre-requisite that will get you enrolled in the training program, you will also need to show passion.

Only candidates who show a huge interest in the field will get selected. This is a highly competitive field. Research well about each training program the providers offer. Being well-informed about the job will make the exam much easier.

Record your practice speech

During the physical interview, you will be doing some group exercises as well as a one-on-one session. The questions are mostly scenario-based. You will be asked to present solutions to some daily operational situations.

The key is to present yourself confidently and logically. Follow the study guide provided in your practice exam set by Job Test Prep and record yourself. Try out different answers to the questions to see which version flows the best and the most natural.

Practice as many times as you can. Interviewers are always impressed by a well-prepared candidate with multiple solutions to a problem. It demonstrates leadership skills and a quick mind for problem-solving.

What are the benefits of becoming an air traffic controller?

High pay

Licensed air traffic controllers are fairly well compensated in the UK. Given that you have completed both your school-based and operational training, you can earn between 37,000 to 42,000 pounds a year with the senior ones making as much as 100,000 pounds a year.

Work schedule

The typical work hours fall between 45 to 47 a week. Everyone works in shifts. You could be working during the weekend or on bank holidays. Most companies offer 28 days of annual leave as a starting point with more days added as you work more years.

Advancement prospects

With more experience, you can progress to becoming a trainer yourself training Student ATCO or be promoted to the management grade. Air traffic controllers are in large demand in the UK. The benefits and salary are reviewed and adjusted each year.


Becoming an air traffic controller is a fulfilling job. You keep people safe and help the world function efficiently. With some proper preparation, your childhood dream of becoming an ACTO does not have to be a world away.

It can be realized as long as you follow this preparation guide and get your practice exam on Job Test Prep. Your hard work will be rewarded. Get your copy now so you do not miss out on the upcoming opportunity to work in an exciting place.

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