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-   -   So is it worth training to be an ATC? (https://www.pprune.org/atc-issues/591888-so-worth-training-atc.html)

Wibblesworth 7th Mar 2017 15:07

So is it worth training to be an ATC?

I'll get the background stuff out of the way. I'm in my mid-20s, useless degree and I worked in radio for three years before being made redundant. Since then I haven't had much luck finding anything I can make a career out of. Retraining opportunities are few and far between when you're not eligible for an apprenticeship.

I looked at applying to be an ATC when I left university, but I kept coming up against people saying that the industry was so competitive that it wasn't worth it. More recently I've signed up to job alerts from the various online job boards and because 'radio' is one of my keywords, I'm receiving emails from NATS. I was curious so I did some more research and the overwhelming impression that I'm getting is that there's a shortage of ATCs and that it's fairly easy to break in to it.

I have a few questions, and I know there is a lot of information on the various websites but I'm interested in getting some anecdotal evidence from people who have been through the recruitment process.

Firstly, how invested are NATS in training you to the point of employability and potentially providing you with a job afterwards?

I was wondering what the financial implications are of taking on training. Do you pay for the training out of your own pocket, do you just pay for accommodation, or do they pay you a salary while training?

Secondly, is relocation something that all ATCs have to thing seriously about if they want to stay in work? I live in the North West, and there are a good few airports within easy commuting distance but I also have a family which makes things difficult if I wanted to up roots and move across the country. Granted I've not looked in depth at how many ATC jobs pop up around here, but I have noticed in passing that the majority seem to be out of commuting distance for me. It doesn't put relocating out of the realms of possibility for me, but it would put a potential spanner in the works.

Edit: Another quick question. There seems to be a lot of opportunities available in the UK at the moment, but is it possible that these opportunities might dry up during the time spent training?

Any help would be appreciated. I'm going through the NATs documentation at the moment to get a better idea of what I'd be in for.

AyrTC 7th Mar 2017 16:00

No doubt people will correct me if I'm wrong. Although NATS appear to be desperate they do not appear to be lowering their standards at the moment, in fact they have just brought out a policy of only one application in your lifetime ( I really don't know why, I thought the try again in two years policy was ok! )

If you are successful you will have a job with NATS however you will have no say if you are going to do an area or an aerodrome course.

You will be sent wherever NATS think there is a business case. Nearest NATS airfield in the NW would be Manchester no guarantee you would get that even if you try to play the I have family card.

If you are chosen for area you will go to Prestwick Centre or Swanwick ( Southampton )

If you have issues with moving this is probably not the job for you!

NATS pay for your training and I think you get about 14,000 a year.

I believe you are bonded to NATS for five years, however I don't know which date they start the five years from.

Most of all read the NATS interview thread!


NudgingSteel 7th Mar 2017 17:09

Like AyrTC says, you've got to be prepared to be posted wherever the business needs you.

The other thing I'd have to mention is that it is by no means "...fairly easy to break into..."!!! There's a huge amount of competition for places, the college training is pretty intense, then once you get posted out it's another full-on period of practical training and learning the books. (and with good reason). Perhaps someone else here might have the current percentage of people who get through from application all the way to validation - but it's not big.

All the above said, it's still a very satisfying job. Technology and cost pressures are changing our world all the time, but I can't think of any other job from which you can unplug with such a sense of achievement, and even dare I say pride, if it's been a good day! By all means go for it but make sure you know what you're getting into....make sure you really want it...and the very best of luck!

HEATHROW DIRECTOR 7th Mar 2017 17:13

What the training does is, subject to passing a lot of exams, provide you with an Air Traffic Controllers Licence. This is valid throughout the UK (maybe EU now?) but it has to contain ratings for particular types of ATC work. At each unit you maybe posted to, the ratings will have to be validated for the unit. At larger units it may take a year to train before you can obtain validation(s) for the ratings in your licence. There is a great deal of work to be done and it may be several years before you can operate "solo". Good luck.

ZOOKER 7th Mar 2017 18:14


Ditto all the comments above. A long time ago I know, but I was about 12 when I decided I wanted to do it.

With a useless degree (for ATC) under my belt, I was 23 when I finally started the course, which was the hardest part of it, and also very enjoyable too. And you get paid to sit in classrooms!

As AyrTC says, the one application per lifetime thing is odd. I could understand that if the ATCO course pass-rate was 100%, but it isn't. The pass-mark for all the ATC course exams is 75%.

If you can commit to all that has been said above, it's one of the best jobs going, with some of the best work-colleagues you could wish for.

Go for it.

Wibblesworth 7th Mar 2017 20:59

Thanks for all the advice. It's actually nice to find an industry where the old-timers are still actively encouraging new people to join.

I misspoke when I said "fairly easy to break in to", I meant in comparison to the complete resistance I got when I looked in to it several years ago.

CPDLC_EDYY 8th Mar 2017 13:01

Hi Wibblesworth if you don't mind relocating to across the little stream of water at Dover you might even think of applying at Eurocontrol Maastricht

kcockayne 9th Mar 2017 00:41

Completely agree with all that has been said, especially with Zooker. You CAN'T get a better career, in my opinion - impossible. And always remember, if you've got an interest in aviation (possibly also if you haven't), it's far better than working for a living ! Although, I have to temper that with " times may have changed slightly since I retired".

The Many Tentacles 9th Mar 2017 05:47

Things have changed in the last few years, although it's still a great job and it certainly beats doing the 9-5 grind for a living

Just remember, during your training you'll be based at the college which is in Whiteley. So, if you don't want to move your family down here then you could up running two households for a while, with a distinct possibility you'll end up staying down south after training finishes

SR94UK 10th Mar 2017 12:25

Thank you to all the members who have invested their time in this thread to provide some insight into the role and the requirements.

Without intention of hijacking this thread, and for the benefit of those like myself who may refer to this thread in the future, I have one question.

If training with NATS in whitely, would a trainee be based there for 3 years or when posted to a unit, can relocation be required.

Also, once validated - how common is relocation by NATS and their business needs.


360BakTrak 10th Mar 2017 18:48

Once valid, unless they lose a contract, I would suggest you wouldn't be moving for business needs! :eek:

sparkyt 10th Mar 2017 19:08

There is also a route to being an ATCO through the military, either RAF or RN.

247 11th Mar 2017 14:50


You won't move once you're valid. Only in very exceptional circumstances, or if you decide to hang up your headset and go down the management route.

261_p 13th Mar 2017 15:57


You are correct however its worth bearing in mind that RAF or RN ATC training has zero crossover into civil ATC and you have to pay (Global) or apply to NATS to do all your civil licenses.

LukeAir2009 5th Jul 2018 08:21

Originally Posted by sparkyt (Post 9702122)
There is also a route to being an ATCO through the military, either RAF or RN.

The problem with being an ATCO in the military is that you can spend 20 years controlling like I did (including in the London TMA) but the moment you leave the military you are no more qualified to be an ATCO than a shelf stacker in Tesco.

Like a shelf stacker in Tesco you will need to obtain your CAA licences and do the relevant courses to obtain them. When I left the RAF in 2011 that came in at around 45k for Aerodrome, Approach and Approach procedural with no guarantee of a job after shelling out that kind of money.

middles 5th Jul 2018 16:26

'When I left the RAF in 2011 that came in at around 45k for Aerodrome, Approach and Approach procedural'
I assume that you mean Aerodrome, Approach and Approach Radar. Seems a bit of a bargain in terms of cost V employability. In the current Non-state ATCO shortage you should be able to walk straight into a job.

chevvron 6th Jul 2018 09:27

If you have to ask, you're obviously not keen enough so don't bother applying.
You've got to be really dedicated to go through the training and too many drop out early because they find it's too difficult.

alfaman 6th Jul 2018 19:24

Originally Posted by chevvron (Post 10189996)
If you have to ask, you're obviously not keen enough so don't bother applying.
You've got to be really dedicated to go through the training and too many drop out early because they find it's too difficult.

What a ridiculous statement: who are you to judge anyone, & then advise someone not to apply to a company you don't work for? Wibblesworth, feel free to PM me if you want answers more useful to you.

Brian 48nav 7th Jul 2018 08:16

It's 16 months since Wibblesworth started this thread - he has either lost interest or is now valid at Farnborough, chevvron's old unit! :E

alfaman 7th Jul 2018 11:25

It's unlikely he's valid at Farnborough in that timescale, & unlikely he's been posted there either, at present; hopefully he still appreciates the positive comments as he did previously on 7th March last year, & ignores the negatives from people who really should know better. If anyone else is reading this, maybe they won't be put off either...

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