Air Traffic Controller
Kaiwhakahaere Huarahi Rererangi
This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Air traffic controllers direct the safe and orderly movement of aircraft while they are flying, landing, taking off and taxiing.
Air traffic controllers usually earn
$83K-$160K per year
Experienced air traffic controllers who work at radar centres usually earn
$160K-$180K per year
Source: Airways New Zealand, 2016.
Air traffic controllers' pay rates depend on where they work, their experience and their duties. Pay includes a base salary plus superannuation, shift work allowances (usually 20% of pay for new controllers) and other benefits.
- New air traffic controllers working at regional airports usually start on about $83,000 a year.
- As they get more experienced they can progress to a maximum of $160,000.
- With further training, air traffic controllers can work at the radar centres in Auckland or Christchurch and earn up to $180,000.
Source: Airways New Zealand, 2016.
- PAYE.net.nz website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website – information about minimum pay rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Air traffic controllers may do some or all of the following:
- receive information about flights from flight plans, pilot reports, radar and observations
- direct aircraft and manage aircraft traffic flows
- advise pilots on weather conditions, the status of facilities and airports
- give pilots permission to take off, land and change altitude and direction
- give airport workers permission to move around the tarmac and runway
- monitor aircraft on a radar and look for possible conflicts
- alert airport fire crew and rescue services in emergencies
- write reports on incidents.
Skills and knowledge
Air traffic controllers need to have knowledge of:
- flight planning and navigation
- technical flying terms
- civil aviation laws
- safety rules and emergency procedures.
Air traffic controllers:
- usually work seven-and-a-half hour shifts, which may include evening, night and weekend work
- usually work in control towers at airports or at radar centres
- at small airports may work alone.
What's the job really like?
Air Traffic Controller
What does your job typically involve?
"As an air traffic controller my job is to issue instructions to pilots to enable an orderly flow of air traffic – during takeoff and landing – and to prevent collisions between aircraft, both on the ground and in the air."
What is the best part about the job?
"I like that every day is different. Weather conditions, timing of flights and different types of aircraft mean the traffic situation is different each day."
What is a challenge of the job?
"During busy traffic periods you have to process new information quickly, develop a plan and then clearly communicate that plan to pilots. Sometimes you have to be able to say no to pilot requests, so being confident and assertive if you have a quiet demeanour can be a challenge."
What advice would you give to someone wanting to become an air traffic controller?
"Having an interest in aviation definitely gives you an advantage when you are training, and keeps the job interesting when you've been in it for many years."
Clayton Lightfoot shares what it takes to become an air traffic controller - 1.23 mins. (Video courtesy of Airways NZ)
You just need to be a well-rounded person, that's got a good amount of common sense.
We teach you how planes fly, how helicopters fly, and the difference between them.
We teach you about the weather, about navigation, what the pilot is actually thinking while he's up there, what he's feeling and going through when you can hear in his voice that he's getting bumped around or a bit nervous.
I did the training centre quite a number of years ago and I still text and talk to the guys on my course. We all try and catch up and go out for a beer and stuff like that. Because we're similar personality types we all get on really well, and we joke and laugh and have a great time.
Once you get signed off from that [the training centre] you then get posted to a particular unit and you work at that unit under the guidance of an instructor until the instructor is happy that you could do it solo. Then you get signed off and get your ATC license.
The achievement of getting sign-off is actually quite a big thing. Hopefully I'll sign someone off today, and the whole team is really excited about it. That person will go home tonight and sleep very well and it will dawn on them tomorrow that they're an air traffic controller. And it'll be a massive and fantastic feeling for them.
To become an air traffic controller you need:
- a Diploma in Air Traffic Control (Level 7), involving a six-month course and on-the-job training
- a Class 3 medical certificate
- airport security clearance.
The diploma course is only run by Airways New Zealand. To get into the course you must:
- be either a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident
- pass aptitude tests, interviews and group exercises
- be at least 20.5 years old
- have a minimum of NCEA Level 2 (12 credits in maths at Level 1 and 8 credits in English at Level 2, and 42 other credits at Level 3 or equivalent)
- pass a medical test.
Entry into the course is very competitive, with only three intakes for the course in 2016.
- Airways New Zealand website - find out whether you are eligible to train as an air traffic controller
- Airways New Zealand website - find out more about air traffic controller entry requirements and training
To enter training as an air traffic controller, you need at least:
- 12 NCEA credits in maths at Level 1
- 8 NCEA credits in English at Level 2
- 42 other NCEA credits at Level 3.
Air traffic controllers need to be:
- very organised, with the ability to prioritise, plan and make decisions
- able to remain calm under pressure
- able to retain and interpret large amounts of information at one time
- excellent at spatial awareness
- mature, responsible and conscientious
- skilled in making calculations
- clear communicators and able to work well with others.
To be an air traffic controller you need to be adaptable – both on the job and in your personal life to fit around the shift work.
Air Traffic Controller
Useful experience for air traffic controllers includes:
- work as an aeroplane pilot
- other aviation and navigation experience
- any work dealing with people in stressful situations.
Air traffic controllers need to have good hearing and eyesight (with or without corrective lenses), normal colour vision and good spatial awareness. They also need to be reasonably healthy, as they have to pass a medical examination every one to three years.
Find out more about training
- Airways New Zealand
- (03) 358 1500 - www.airways.co.nz
- Aviation, Tourism and Travel Training Organisation (ATTTO)
- (04) 499 6570 - email@example.com - www.attto.org.nz/
What are the chances of getting a job?
Small number of air traffic controller roles and limited entry to training
Less than 400 air traffic controllers are employed nationwide and people tend to stay in the role for a long time, so vacancies are limited.
Airways New Zealand, the only employer of air traffic controllers, takes on a limited number of trainees – about three a year. Entry into the course is very competitive. Trainees who complete the training and meet other requirements usually get a job.
Only one employer of air traffic controllers
All air traffic controllers work for Airways New Zealand.
- Airways New Zealand, 'Air Traffic Control Careers', accessed April 2016, (www.airways.co.nz).
- Baird, B, people and capability assistant, Airways New Zealand, Careers New Zealand interview, April 2016.
- Farron, J, air traffic controller, Airways Wellington tower, Careers New Zealand interview, April 2016.
Progression and specialisations
New air traffic controllers usually work at a regional control tower, dealing with domestic flights only. With two to three years' experience they may progress to work in an international control tower or radar centre. They may then progress to work in management roles or specialist roles such as:
- Air Traffic Control Policy and Standards Specialist
- Air traffic control policy and standard specialists co-ordinate and provide advice on procedures, licensing and standards issues.
- Air Training Centre Instructor
- Air training centre instructors train air traffic controllers.
Last updated 19 August 2017