Photos: The technology driving air traffic control


Overview of the new control room at Preswick

Overview of the new control room at Preswick

Air traffic controllers: A tiny 3% of people accepted on to controller training courses make it to the end. Astill says there are all sorts of reasons for this.

The successful trainees have a well-developed ability to keep calm under high pressure, as well as the ability to receive and synthesise lots of different information.

“In one ear you have someone on the telephone, in another you can have the pilot on the radio, and then you can be doing something else,” says Astill, a former controller.

“You need to be able to take lots of different sensory inputs and make sense of them.” He says eighty per cent of the job is about confidence – you really need to know what you’re doing. There’s also some technical knowledge required.

Controllers need to know the ins and outs of all the systems, as well as the basics of how radio and radar work, because if a part of the technology goes down they need to know what they’ve lost, why they might have lost it, and possibly how to get it back.


Controlling air traffic is one of the world’s more stressful jobs. There’s the “life and death” element of it, plus the need for razor-sharp reactions on everything from terrorist attacks to extreme weather. But despite the apparent complexity of the task, and the high-tech appearance of the equipment, it’s still a job that relies completely on the ability and skill of its staff.

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