Skip to main content
Home » Career Transformation » Here’s what you’ll need for a rewarding career in air traffic control
Career Transformation Q1 2024

Here’s what you’ll need for a rewarding career in air traffic control

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Simon Gallagher

Peter Kearney

Chief Executive Officer, AirNav Ireland

Discover the highly rewarding world of air traffic control. Excitement, responsibility and constant challenge await. Learn more about air traffic controller careers.

Air traffic controllers — the unseen champions of the skies — harness radar, radio communication and a wide array of tools to skillfully guide aircraft through the skies and in and out of airports. Their job goes beyond just giving directions; they steer pilots through the complexities of take-offs, landings and every moment in between — guaranteeing the smooth and safe operation of every flight.

High-stakes air traffic control career

“Being an air traffic controller is a unique blend of excitement, responsibility and the satisfaction of knowing you’re contributing to aviation safety,” says Peter Kearney, Chief Executive Officer of AirNav Ireland, which provides air traffic management services across Ireland’s 451,000 km2 of airspace.

“Every day brings new challenges, and the sense of accomplishment from successfully managing complex traffic scenarios is incredibly rewarding.” It is a fast-paced role, especially during busy periods or in emergencies. Controllers cope with stress through rigorous training (with effective stress management techniques) and support networks — but having the right temperament is crucial.

“We seek individuals who are calm under pressure, possess strong communication skills, have excellent spatial awareness and can multitask effectively,” says Peter Kearney. “Adaptability, attention to detail and a commitment to safety are also crucial traits.”

It is a fast-paced role, especially during
busy periods or in emergencies.

Education requirements for air traffic control

You don’t need a college degree to become an air traffic controller, but you need a completed Leaving Certificate with five passes (including maths) with a Grade H5 in at least two higher-level papers. The educational standard required is a minimum of Level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications Ireland (NFQ). An equivalent second-level qualification may be acceptable, but it must include maths-based subjects.

The main routes into the job typically involve specialised training programmes offered by air navigation service providers, such as AirNav Ireland or aviation authorities. This usually includes a mix of classroom instruction, simulation exercises and on-the-job training under the supervision of experienced controllers. Duration can vary, but it often lasts between 18 months and two years.

Necessary skills to become an air traffic controller

Those considering a career as an air traffic controller would benefit from heeding Peter Kearney’s advice. “Focus on honing strong communication and problem-solving abilities,” he suggests. “Also, get ready for a rewarding and fulfilling career ahead.”

Next article