Air Traffic Controller

Air traffic controllers direct the safe and orderly movement of aircraft while they are flying, landing, taking off and taxiing. The most important aspect of air traffic controllers’ work is to keep airport traffic flowing smoothly, safely and efficiently. They provide pilots with instructions based on information received from equipment (such as radar), other controllers, the weather bureau, other airline pilots and other sources. 

Air traffic controllers: receive information about flights from flight plans, pilot reports, radar and observations; direct aircraft to manage aircraft traffic flows so that accidents are avoided; advise pilots on weather conditions, the status of facilities, airports and other services; give pilots permission to take off, land and change altitude and direction; give airport workers permission to move around on the tarmac and runway; monitor aircraft in the air on a radar and look for possible conflicts; check equipment used for navigation; communicate by telephone, radio and satellite communication systems with pilots, air traffic controllers and other airport professionals; alert airport fire crew and rescue services in cases of emergency; and write reports on incidents.

In airport control, air traffic controllers are concerned with all aircraft moving on the surface of the airport and all aircraft taking off and landing during good weather conditions. In approach control, air traffic controllers give instructions, particularly during bad weather conditions, to incoming aircraft until the runway is in sight and to departing aircraft until level flight is reached. In airway control, instructions to pilots ensure that safe distances between aircraft are maintained.

Air traffic controllers need to know about flight planning, weather, navigation and aircraft performance. They also need to know civil aviation laws, safety rules, emergency procedures, technical flying terms and the different methods used to separate aircraft in the air.

Equipment used by air traffic controllers includes: radar screens; electronic equipment; computers; radios and telephones to contact pilots and other airport staff. Experience as a pilot can be very helpful for air traffic controllers, as can aviation and navigation experience. Air traffic controllers spend a lot of time dealing with pilots and other air traffic controllers, so any work involving people is useful.

Personal Requirements

  • skill in interpreting information and making calculations
  • audible, clear voice and a good telephone manner
  • ability to make quick, accurate decisions in a busy working environment
  • ability to think quickly and remain calm in all situations
  • good organisational skills and ability to prioritise and work well under pressure
  • emotionally and mentally mature and stable
  • responsible, conscientious, adaptable and self-confident
  • good hearing and good eyesight (with or without glasses)
  • ability to look at and scan computers, radar presentations and flight plans continuously for long periods of time
  • good health and able to pass a medical examination every year

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate (matric), or equivalent with a Bachelor's Degree pass
Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics 
Recommended subjects: Geography

What to Study

Air traffic controllers receive a combination of theory and practical training before they qualify. Once qualified, they receive ongoing training.

The Department of Transport and the SA Defence Force train air traffic controllers in their employ.

Theoretical training is given at O R Tambo Airport and Waterkloof Air Force Base and practical training at major airports throughout the country, or at air bases in the case of the Defence Force.

The Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) College is situated at O R Tambo Airport. After successfully completely the course offered, students can register as professional air traffic controllers and can work as area, approach or radar controllers.

Air traffic controllers (in all specialisations) must obtain a valid traffic controller’s licence. In addition, controllers must obtain a facility rating for the type of facility to which they are assigned. Air traffic controllers must take and pass yearly physical examinations to re-qualify for their positions.


  • Department of Transport
  • SA Air Force
  • various airports

Further Information

Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS)
Eastgate Office Park, Block C
South Boulevard Road
Bruma, 2198
Tel: 0860 286 726

SA Air Force
Private Bag X199
Pretoria, 0001 
Tel: (012) 312-2911

Getting Started

  • make an appointment to talk to an air traffic controller and try to obtain permission to observe the work undertaken.
  • try to get a part time or holiday job at an airport in your area
  • take a flying course
  • engage in activities, which involve speaking to groups, or over microphones

Related Occupations

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