Keep an eye on the sky, become an air traffic controller

Airspace around the world is busy with passenger, commercial and private planes each on route to their own destination. Keeping these planes on track and avoiding any potential collisions takes a professional team of air traffic controllers stationed around the world. If the idea of keeping tabs on all these planes, while working in a mentally challenging and fast paced environment appeals to you, then perhaps you should consider the role of an air traffic controller.

Air traffic controllers maintain an orderly and efficient airspace 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It’s a safety critical role and the work can be stressful at times. Controllers issue instructions and commands to pilots by radio to keep all aircraft flying at safe altitudes and assist them during take-offs and landings. The around the clock nature of the job means most controllers work shifts. In the UK, an air traffic controller can only work for a maximum of 90 minutes before a 30 minute break must be taken. Maintaining concentration during working hours is paramount.

air traffic controller
To enter this industry you must undergo extensive training to cope with the demanding nature of the job, however as a result, the pay is excellent. Experienced controllers at busy airports can earn in excess of £85,000 or $130,000 per year. In addition, the job security and career prospects are excellent as there is always a shortage of talented new recruits entering the industry.

Most people assume you will be based in the tower at an airport, however, most controllers work at air control centres. In the UK there are three main centres at Swanwick, Manchester and Preswick. The air traffic controllers based airport towers assist with landings and take-offs but this is only a small part of the overall operation. Approach controllers help pilots as they approach the runway, placing them in sequence and assisting them with parking once landed.

To become an air traffic controller you must be aged between 18 and 36 – the upper age limit is set to reflect the fact it can take up to 10 years to become a senior controller and metal agility is said to decline with age.  You must also have good grades in maths and English. Training usually begins with 12 months at college where you’ll learn the basics of the job. After that you can expect around three years of on-the-job training before you are fully qualified. Air traffic controllers also have to pass a medical examination every two years in order to ensure they are fit and able to continue working.

So if you’re interested in working within the heart of the aviation industry, in a role with good job security and great pay, perhaps you should set your sights on being an air traffic controller.

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