Air Traffic Controller Kaiwhakahaere Huarahi Rererangi

Air traffic controllers direct the safe and orderly movement of aircraft while they are flying, landing, taking off and taxiing.

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 resolve possible conflicts
  • alert airport fire crew and rescue services in emergencies
  • write reports on incidents.

Physical Requirements

Air traffic controllers need to have:

  • good hearing and eyesight (with or without corrective lenses)
  • normal colour vision
  • good spatial awareness.

They also need to be reasonably healthy, as they have to pass a medical examination every one to four years.

Useful Experience

Useful experience for air traffic controllers includes:

  • work as an aeroplane or helicopter pilot
  • other aviation and navigation experience
  • any work dealing with people
  • work in industries with a strong health and safety focus, for example, emergency services.

Personal Qualities

Air traffic controllers need to be:

  • very organised, with the ability to prioritise, plan and make decisions
  • able to remain calm under pressure and adapt quickly to changing situations
  • able to learn theory and apply it in practical situations
  • excellent at spatial awareness
  • mature, responsible and conscientious
  • skilled in making calculations
  • clear communicators and able to work well with others.


Air traffic controllers need to have knowledge of:

  • meteorology
  • technical flying terms
  • civil aviation laws
  • safety rules and emergency procedures.


Air traffic controllers:

  • usually work seven-and-a-half hour shifts, which includes evening, night and weekend work
  • usually work in control towers at airports or at surveillance (radar) centres in Auckland and Christchurch
  • may work alone at small airports.

Subject Recommendations

NCEA Level 3 is required to enter tertiary training. Useful subjects include English and maths.

Air Traffic Controllers can earn around $110K-$245K per year.

Pay for air traffic controllers varies depending on where they work, their experience and their duties. Pay includes a base salary plus superannuation, shift work allowances and other benefits.

  • New air traffic controllers working at regional airports usually start on $110,000 a year.
  • Experienced air traffic controllers can earn up to $245,000.
  • Air traffic controllers who work at the radar centres in Auckland and Christchurch usually earn $160,000 to $245,000.

Source: Airways New Zealand, 2023.

New air traffic controllers usually work at a regional control tower, dealing mostly with domestic flights. With two to three years' experience they may progress to work in an international control tower or radar centre. They may then move into management or specialist roles such as:

Air Traffic Control Policy and Standards Specialist
Air traffic control policy and standards specialists co-ordinate and provide advice on procedures, licensing and standards issues.
Air Training Centre Instructor
Air training centre instructors train air traffic controllers.

Years Of Training

1-2 years of training required.

To become an air traffic controller you need to have:

  • completed courses and qualifications in air traffic services including a 9-month course in Christchurch and field training at a regional airport
  • passed an English language test
  • a Class 3 medical certificate
  • an airport security clearance and pass Civil Aviation Authority requirements 
  • a licence issued by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority.

Air traffic control training is operated by Airways International, with two programme intakes a year.

To get into the training programme you must:

  • be either a New Zealand or Australian citizen or a permanent resident
  • pass aptitude tests, interviews and group exercises
  • be at least 20 years old
  • have NCEA Level 3 or equivalent – or hold a personal or commercial pilot licence and have work experience
  • be able to pass the Civil Aviation Authority medical certificate and requirements to be a fit and proper person.

If you're under 20 years old, you can do a Bachelor of Aviation Management at Massey University for two years before applying for the air traffic control training programme.

Air Traffic Controller