Today is International Day of the Air Traffic Controller – an annual celebration to recognise and appreciate the profession, and the crucial role it plays in ensuring the safety and efficiency of air travel.

To mark this significant date, we caught up with Ellie and Jack – two of our dedicated colleagues in Air Traffic Control (ATC). Both are at different stages of their career; Ellie has recently qualified as an Air Traffic Controller, and Jack is currently completing his training at Global ATS in Gloucester.

What inspired you to pursue a career in air traffic control?

Ellie: A career in ATC has always been a life-long dream of mine. My inspiration came from my previous ATC experience in the Royal Navy, and it was something I knew I wanted to pursue once becoming a civilian again.

Jack: I’ve always been interested in aviation and grew up seeing my grandfather fly out of Biggin Hill with his private pilot licence. Initially, I wanted to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps and become a pilot. However, whilst working in the industry, I was able to see the wide variety of careers available. In March 2022, I applied to become an ATC Assistant at London Biggin Hill Airport – I was successful, and the rest is history!

Can you share some insights into the training experience and how it has prepared/is preparing you for the role?

Ellie: The training programme was a thorough process, but well structured to help you get to the end goal and validate as a controller. I spent around eight months at the dedicated training college, in Gloucester, to complete three courses: basic, aerodrome and approach procedural. The rest was completed in ATC back at London Biggin Hill with on-the-job training. Once you’ve accumulated enough hours, you are then put forward for validation and an inspector from the Civil Aviation Authority is invited down for the day to assess you. It’s a commitment, but very much worth it!

Jack: I’m currently at the training college in Gloucester, and have been there for the last four months. So far, I’ve completed the basic course, which covers the majority of theoretical aspects relating to ATC, including aviation law, aircraft operations, navigation, air traffic management, equipment and human factors.

I am now part way through the aerodrome rating course, which is primarily made up of simulator sessions that run through a variety of different traffic situations. I’m hoping to have this completed by December and return back to the college to start the approach procedural rating in January.

Once I’ve successfully passed these courses, I have around eighteen months of training to complete at London Biggin Hill before I gain my ATC licence. This portion is primarily practical training, on a live traffic environment, under the supervision and guidance of an OJTI (on job training instructor).

Could you explain the key skills and competencies that are required to become an air traffic controller? 

Ellie: You have to be able to work hard, be self-motivated and dedicated because it takes around two to two and a half years to qualify. It’s also essential to have a good level of confidence, the ability to make a decision quickly and efficiently, and be able to work under pressure.

What are your goals and aspirations for your future career as an air traffic controller?

Jack: My main aspiration is to become an OJTI (on job training instructor) at some point in the future. Whilst I am still early on in my career, I would love to be able to pass on some of my knowledge to students in the future, in the same way that my colleagues are supporting me now.

What advice do you have for aspiring air traffic controllers who are considering this career path?

Ellie: My advice would be to reach out to your local airport and ask if it would be possible to visit or if they have any opportunities for those aspiring to work in aviation – for example, London Biggin Hill runs a number of early careers programmes. These experiences and being in the environment can help solidify your thoughts on whether it’s the right path for you.

To those that are in the early stages of their training, the hard work is so worth it! Believe in yourself because it’s a fantastic career and every day you get to feel a sense of achievement.