Air traffic control training, what do you need for becoming an ATCO?

Not many companies are offering air traffic control training. The reason for this is that it’s a very technical profession, and it involves a lot of practice with real equipment. And, the training organisation has to be certified by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which doesn’t come easy too. In fact, there are only three certified training organisations which can offer air traffic control training.

What is the role of an air traffic controller?

An air traffic controller (or ATCO) plays a very important role at and around Heathrow Airport. It supervises all flight traffic coming in and out of the airport. You will find more information about the job of an air traffic controller in this article: Air traffic controller jobs. And if you want to look for open vacancies right away, you can find them here: Air traffic controller vacancies.

What’s needed for becoming an air traffic controller?

The full air traffic controller training consists of several different courses which you need to take. The training centres will help you in this, since the list is long. To give you an example, these are some courses you can take:

  • Basic course for Aerodrome Control Instrument (ADI) rating/Approach Control Surveillance (APS) rating
  • Basic course for Area Control Surveillance (ACS) rating
  • Aerodrome Control Instrument (ADI) rating course
  • Approach Control Surveillance (APS) rating course
  • Area Control Surveillance (ACS) rating course

And this is all initial training. This means you need these courses to certify for your Student Air Traffic Controller License (Student ATCO License). Once that’s in the pocket, you can apply for a grant to get your Air Traffic Controller License (ATCO License). Again, the air traffic control training organisations will assist and advice you in this, just know that becoming an air traffic controller isn’t an easy task (but who thought it would be?). But, there’s one of the reasons why an air traffic controller salary is among the highest of airport staff. The requirements are very high (you also need to pass an medical assessment, and your comprehension of the English language need to be way above average), but the rewards make it up for it.

Where can you get air traffic control training?

Like mentioned above, there are three training organisation where you can undergo air traffic controller training. These are:

NATS is also the operator of most of the air traffic control stations in the UK, so they might seem a good fit. But the other facilities have earned their share as well, so you should check them all out. You will also find more information about the air traffic control training procedure at the CAA website here.

What does air traffic control training cost?

This seems to be a bit of a mystery. None of the training organisations offering air traffic control training lists prices on their website. And when you look at the NATS website, it seems you don’t even have to pay anything, and start earning right away (although they are not clear about the fact if this concerns Student ATCO, or those already enrolled in the full ATCO certification program). But expect it to be very expensive.

How can you prepare for air traffic control training?

Even though there’s nothing like the real deal, there are some great books which should help you prepare for your air traffic control training. Amazon has some great titles for you, which are really worth checking out:

Air traffic control test preparation:

Air traffic control reference books:

  • Fundamentals of Air Traffic Control– a pricey, but detailed – 672 pages – book about the full ins and out of air traffic control.
  • Jane’s Air Traffic Control 2012/2013– Jane’s put out a book on air traffic control as well, but it’s for the real hardcore enthusiasts. It offers detailed and current information on equipment and software used for by air traffic controllers. Oh, and for it to be affordable you have to be an ATCO first 😉

Air Traffic Control Jobs

Our partner site Airport Career has an extensive section on air traffic control jobs. Here you will find job descriptions and requirements, salary information and required training. Read more about Air Traffic Control Jobs.

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Join the Conversation


  1. Hello my name is Kieron and I am extreamly interested in being a air traffic controller and persuing this as my dream job. I am 17 and i want to know how much the training would be and if there is any training available and if i have to wait untill i am 18 or not.
    Would love to hear back from you,
    Kind regards,
    Kieron Haine

    1. Hi Kieron,
      I will put your request here on the site, so someone maybe can pick it up 🙂

  2. hi my name is tejash patel i really want to become an air traffic controller to fulfill my dream and would like to know how much it would cost and would like to know if NATS would give a student of different nationality a chance to be a trainee with them and as well as work.

  3. Hi I’m Isabell and I’ve always wanted to be an air traffic controller, but two years ago I got diagnosed with Addisons disease and type one diabetes, I’m also asthmatic. Could I still become an air traffic controller or is this now impossible?

    1. Hi Isabell,
      I’m afraid I can’t advise you on this, but what you could do is inform at the recruitment agent you will find over here: Air traffic controller vacancies. Or you can contact NATS (link), which runs the air traffic control on Heathrow Airport.
      Maybe by contacting them you can find out if it is still possible to become air traffic controller.
      Best of luck!
      Heathrow Careers

  4. Hi,
    I really want to an Air Traffic Controller and I’m 19 years old Unemployed for the past 10 days and I’m very confused on how and where to begin from being an ATC and plus I do not hold English GCSE at grade C every thing and I have over 5 GCSE’s at grade B and above just not English Also diploma in Mechanical Engineering,

  5. Hi is there an upper age limit where you can longer be considered for training as an ATC?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Jon,
      there don’t seem to be an upper age limit, but there may be one when you actually apply for an ATC job.
      Best of luck,
      Heathrow Careers

  6. Hi My name is Brian and I’m 31 this year and I was wondering if there is a cut off age for when you can apply to be a Air traffic Controller license and if I was willing to pay for the course myself how much would it roughly cost?

    1. Hi Brian,
      on this page you will find all relevant courses and entry information: Global ATS ATC Training
      It seems there’s no maximum age, and costs depend on which course you want to take on.
      Best of luck,
      Heathrow Careers

  7. hye
    I am 15 years old. i have a dream from my childhood to be an air hostess. and i want it to come true. i have a really good height at my this age which is 5:7. I hoping so that i will get a chance to be an air hostess in my future. I’m in year 10 now! what results will i need to be an air hostess?
    i hope you’ll will help me in my dream coming true

  8. hi my name is walter l am 16 years old and l have a dream to become an air traffic controller can you help me to make my dream come true can send an email with all the requirements and fees

  9. Hello,
    I am 24 yo, live in London, graduated from Sociology and currently working as a Manager in a Solicitors firm.
    I want to become a ATC. I have done some research, but the more I do the more Im confused.
    Can I independently do the trainee course or do I have to go through the application/interview process?
    Is it possible to do voluntary work within the tower?
    When is it best to apply for the gaining course?

    1. Hi Fatma,
      I understand the confusion: NATS provides it’s own training course, while also operating most of the Air Traffic Control towers in the UK. However, if you want to study independently of NATS (for example if you want to apply for a non-NATS controlled ATC position) you can undergo training with Global ATS. I don’t believe it’s possible to volunteer in a tower, since it is a high stressed environment with limited space and guidance.
      Best of luck,

    1. Hi Tharaka,
      to get an actual Air Traffic Control job you should be eligible to work in the UK. If that’s settled there should be no problem in taking the ATC course.
      Best of luck,

  10. Hi my name is Mubasher, I am really interested in becoming a Air Traffic controller but I don’t have my GCSE’s at Grade C or above. My GCSE’s Grades are D and E, accept for one which is for R.E Subject at a Grade C. It’s been about 8 years since I did my GCSE’s. Can I resit them now and be accepted for the ATC course then if I get the Grades required to become ATC. Plus I have done GNVQ IN BUSINESS and got a pass in that, can that be accepted. I have also done a couple of other short courses like Web design, Business and administration training. I am a really hard working man, dedicated and I want a good job this job would be my dream come true. Please help me with some advice. I’ve been on the NATS website and the only criteria I don’t meet is the GCSE’s at the Grade C. So please can you help me I want to do good for myself. Thank you

    1. Hi,
      I think it’s best to ask your questions directly to NATS, since these are very specific.
      Best of luck,

  11. hi my name is Romany , i am from Egypt and 40 years old , i had some ATC Courses in my country and IELTS grade 6 ,now i am settled in UK .
    is there a maximum age ? is it possible to be an ATCO even i am not a UK citizen?

    1. Hello Romany,
      Seek out openings to find out. Different airlines may have different requirements. Citizenship should not be a problem since most airlines are global companies.

  12. Hi,
    I’m in my final year of Sixth Form, and looking at further education opportunities. I would love to do ATC, however am being strongly pushed to do a degree at university first. Is it recommended to get a degree before training as ATC, and would it matter what I studied (I would be doing maths).
    I look forward to hearing back from you,
    Thanks, Becca

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