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How to become an Air Traffic Controller (ATC)

Responsible for keeping aircraft, flight crews, and airline passengers safe, Air Traffic Controllers work from control towers, approach control facilities, or route centres.

They instruct aircraft when to safely take off or land and coordinate air traffic patterns to maintain safe distances from other aircraft. They also monitor all aircraft to ensure they are in the right place at the right time, problem free. They are authorised to change flight paths if necessary.

Incredibly focused and able to concentrate for long periods? A quick thinker and great team player? Looking for a career that could take you anywhere in the world? Then consider a career in Air Traffic Control.


About you:


  • Excellent decision maker
  • Good spatial awareness and strong mathematical skills
  • Work well under pressure
  • Exceptional computer skills
  • Confident, highly responsible and motivated
  • Fluent English speaker
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Good forward planning but adaptable to changing situations
  • Willing to do shift work 24/7, 365 days of the year


The job:


  • Issue landing and take-off instructions to pilots
  • Monitor and direct the movement of aircraft on the ground and in the air, using radar, computers, or visual references
  • Organise flight plans and traffic management plans
  • Control all ground traffic at airports, including baggage vehicles and airport workers
  • Communicate with pilots, airport staff, and other agencies as required
  • Provide information to pilots, such as weather updates, runway closures, and flight path changes or directions to emergency landing fields for pilots travelling in bad weather or in emergency situations
  • Alert airport response staff in the event of an emergency
  • Maintain accurate records and reports


Lifestyle Impact: High


  • Part Time opportunities: Low – only around 12% of Air Traffic Controllers work part-time (source: labourmarketinsights.gov.au).
  • Average hours for full-time workers: 40 hours a week, which is around average (source: labourmarketinsights.gov.au).
  • Air Traffic Controllers’ salary (median) $123,000* per year (source: ato.gov.au). *Salaries greatly vary depending on your skills and experience. If you train through the ADF, you will earn $80,857 as soon as you finish your training (source: defencejobs.gov.au).
  • Future career growth: Very strong (source: labourmarketinsights.gov.au).
  • You will be doing most of your work indoors, from an air traffic control tower.
  • You will need to do a lot of shift work, and be prepared to work any time of the day or night.


Air Traffic Controllers are most in demand in these locations:


Demand for Air Traffic Controllers is highest in Queensland and the Northern Territory, and many Air Traffic Controllers live and work in capital cities (around 70%). Most Air Traffic Controllers work in the Transport, Postal and Warehousing industry.


How to become an Air Traffic Controller in Australia


There are two pathways to becoming an Air Traffic Controller in Australia: either complete a traineeship through Airservices Australia, or complete training through the Australian Defence Force.


Step 1 – Complete Year 12 with a focus on English and Maths.


Step 2 – Complete a Diploma of Aviation (Air Traffic Control) with Airservices Australia. The course will take 12 months if you go down the Tower path, or 14 months if you go down the Enroute path.


Step 3 – Alternatively, you can complete your training with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), which can take around 12 to 18 months.


Step 4 – Pass an aviation medical and meet security clearance requirements.


Step 5 – Start working as a fully qualified Air Traffic Controller.


Find out more here –





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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


What options are there for career progression?


Generally your salary will increase as you gain more experience as an Air Traffic Controller. There may also be further specialist qualifications you might like to undertake.


Do I need to go to university to become an Air Traffic Controller?


You don’t need to go to university, but you will still need to follow a formal pathway (either through Airservices Australia or the ADF) to work as an Air Traffic Controller.


Where do Air Traffic Controllers work?


Air Traffic Controllers spend a majority of their time working in control towers, which are located at all airports – even little ones.


What are 3 things I can do right now to help me become an Air Traffic Controller?


If you’re in high school and you’d like to find out if a career as an Air Traffic Controller is right for you, here’s a few things you could do right now:

  1. Start researching the pathways and decide which one is better for you. Consider things like whether you will need to move far, starting salaries, and your future flexibility.
  2. See if you can find work experience in aviation or transport. This will help you see if you might enjoy the work, and can help you start building important contacts for the future.
  3. Talk to an Air Traffic Controller to see what a day in their life is like. If you don’t know anyone, see if you can watch videos or documentaries about a career in aviation.

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