Air Traffic Control In Australia - Can You Control The Skies?

Air traffic control in Australia is provided by two different agencies, one civilian and one military. The civilian provider is Air Services Australia, which controls civilian airfields and airspace. The military provider is the Royal Australian Air Force, which controls military airfields and airspace (This includes Australian Army and Royal Australian Navy aviation bases). Some airfields in Australia are categorised as Joint User airfields, meaning that there are both civilian and military operations based at the airfield. Normally, Joint User airfields are controlled by the RAAF.

VFR Tower Controllers Military Air Traffic Control

Like civil air traffic control, the Australian Defence Force provide Tower, Approach and Centre (en route) services. Although historically each of the three services had its own air traffic controllers, the Royal Australian Air Force exclusively provides air traffic control services to the Australian Defence Force.

44 Wing (44WG) was formed to centrally manage ATC personnel and facilities at 11 Defence bases. 44 Wing is an Air Command unit, belonging to the Surveillance and Response Group. Each base has its own 44WG detachment which manages air traffic control services at the base, although is ultimately commanded from HQ44WG in Williamtown, NSW.

The RAAF provide both Tower and Approach services, and in some cases a limited Centre (or en route) service. However, centre services are normally amalgamated with approach control. Two bases, Richmond and Edinburgh, provide only a Tower service, given their close proximity to Sydney and Adelaide respectively. Civilian ATC provide approach services to these bases.

Tower and Approach services are normally located within the control tower or an adjacent building. Unlike civilian ATC, no approach or en route services are provided remotely.

Air Traffic Control Tower Airservices Australia (AsA) is a government owned corporation that provides air traffic control services, as well as other related services such as airfield fire services.

Like military air traffic control, AsA provide Tower, Approach and Centre (en route) services

How Demanding is the Job of Air Traffic Control?

The nature of the job demands that Air Traffic Controllers be able to make quick and accurate decisions based on information regarding an aircraft's position. To this end, you must:

  • be confident and able to work with modern computer-based equipment;

  • be self-motivated and independent, yet work within a team environment;

  • be dedicated, professional, conscientious, confident and able to accept highlevels of personal responsibility;

  • possess a good understanding and a clear application of the English language; and

  • be prepared to work shifts on any day of the year.

Air Traffic Controller Training Positions

Airservices Australia employs Air Traffic Controllers to manage the safe and orderly flow of aircraft into, out of, and between airports throughout Australia and with overseas regions adjoining Australian airspace.

As an Air Traffic Controller you can expect to work at one of our two major centres: Brisbane or Melbourne, or at one of our many Terminal Control Units or Control Towers which are located throughout Australia.

In addition to the daily management of routine air traffic, Air Traffic Controllers also provide information and assistance to pilots in the event they should experience an inflight emergency.

VFR Control Enroute Controllers

Enroute Controllers are responsible for the safe management of air traffic over the majority of the Australian mainland and on oceanic routes. Enroute control services are delivered from our two major centres in Brisbane and Melbourne.

"Hi, my name is Andrew Rogers and I am stationed at Airservices Australia's Air Traffic Control facility at Brisbane, where I have worked as an Enroute controller for the past five years.

As the name suggests, Enroute control is the management and control of aircraft while enroute from its departure aerodrome to its arrival aerodrome. Enroute is that sector of an aircraft's flight plan that is outside the responsibility of the Terminal Area Controller's responsibility and generally speaking, is when the aircraft is at its cruise level. All aircraft operating within controlled airspace require specific approval and authorisation.

As an Enroute controller, I am responsible for providing such approval; ensuring separation standards are maintained between aircraft operating within my designated airspace. Separation Standards are the minimum distances or time periods prescribed between two aircraft and the conditions by which these scales must be applied.

The types of separation which may be applied in order to achieve and maintain separation are vertical, lateral or longitudinal. What I like best about the job is the challenge it offers and the opportunity of learning new skills as we adopt and incorporate new technology."

Terminal Area Controllers

Terminal Area Controllers use radar to manage the orderly flow of aircraft arriving and departing from major city airports. Terminal Area Control services are provided from the Brisbane and Melbourne Centres and Terminal Control Unit’s in you can expect to work in Cairns, Sydney, Adelaide or Perth.

"Hi, I'm Susan Smith, and I would like to give you some ideas and information about the work I do as a Terminal Area (Approach) controller at Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport.

I've been an Air Traffic Controller for 20 years now, continuously based in Sydney. During that time, I've worked as a Data Officer (ADSO), Enroute controller and for the last 11 years, I've been working in the Sydney Terminal Control Unit (TCU). As you may know, terminal area (or approach) controllers manage the airspace immediately surrounding an airport.

The area of responsibility usually extends out to about 40 nautical miles from Capital City airports. This makes the approach controller's job a particularly busy one, given the concentration of aircraft in a relatively small space.

Terminal area controllers handle not only the traffic arriving and departing these major airports, but also helicopter and light aircraft movements within the vicinity of these airports. Hence, not only is the traffic concentrated but also complex, with a mix of very different types of aircraft; each requiring a different level of service from the controller.

The Sydney TCU is a busy operational environment where you need to be able to make quick and accurate judgments, respond to changing circumstances, and take into account the requirements of not just the pilots but the community as a whole. As well as doing my job as an Air Traffic Controller, I also have the role of Stream Specialist for the TCU. This job requires me to respond to Air Traffic Control problems, be they staffing issues or problems with control procedures. I am required to liaise with not just other controllers but pilots, airline operator and community representatives. Hence, being an Air Traffic Controller can involve much more than separating aircraft.

I particularly enjoy my career because of the responsibility and everyday variety. It is a job which offers you a real sense of achievement every day."

Terminal Controller Tower Controllers

Tower Controllers work in the control tower at an aerodrome where they are responsible for all aircraft and vehicle movements on the taxi ways, runways and in the immediate vicinity of the aerodrome. Airservices Australia operates 26 control towers around Australia.

"Hi, my name is Neil Hall and I would like to give you an insight into what it is like to be a Tower Controller.

I have worked as an Air Traffic Controller for 23 years including en-route and terminal. The last 8 years have been in Coolangatta Tower providing air traffic service to all aircraft within 7 nautical mile radius of Coolangatta Airport up to 1500 feet in what is known as the Coolangatta Control Zone.

Coolangatta Tower is a radar tower like Brisbane or Sydney, however tower controllers also work in regional non-radar towers such as Albury or Coffs Harbour. The third tower environment is general aviation towers which are located near major cities to facilitate the training of pilots and light aircraft operations.

All Air Traffic Controllers are required to provide a service which varies according to the type of airspace they look after. At Coolangatta I am required to prevent collisions between aircraft in the air, sometimes by asking pilots to sight each other and at other times by keeping them at different levels or keeping them on different routes. Aircraft must also be kept apart on the ground. This is done by issuing specific taxi instructions from the time they leave the terminal and by not allowing more than one aircraft on the runway at the same time. A tower controller must also provide pilots with weather information, general information about the aerodrome and a search and rescue service which may involve pushing the crash alarm to alert the airport fire-fighters or notifying local police if other emergency services are required.

The types of aircraft given service include large and small jets, military aircraft, commuter turbo-props, light training aircraft, helicopters, powered gliders, hot air balloons, parachute aircraft and ultra-lights. Many of these aircraft are on joy flights or training flights that cut across the landing or departing traffic.

My work environment presents different problems every day and there are always a number of ways of solving those problems.

Do you like being close to the action and enjoy a challenge? Are you able to react quickly to changing situations? Do you work well in a small group or alone? Consider joining Airservices Australia as a Tower Controller. The view is fantastic!"

Training and Posting

Training Location

All ATC theory training (College Phase) is conducted at the Airservices Australia’s Training College in Melbourne.

Training Duration

Applicants with no prior experience (Ab Initio) College Phase - 12 months approx. Final Field Training - 4 – 6 months approx. Postings for Final Field Training

Enroute Trainees

Applicants who are selected for Enroute training will be notified, at the time they are given a formal offer of employment, of whether they have been posted to Melbourne or Brisbane (this is based on the preference of the candidate and review of the selection panel). This will be their location for final field training and ongoing employment as an ATC.

Details on Airservices Australia’s Enroute Centres are available at the following web link: Air Service Australia

IFR Control

Tower Trainees

Tower Trainees may be posted to any of the Air Traffic Management towers for final field training. A graduate ATC is expected to achieve the required licensing standards in any of the tower air traffic control environments. There are three Tower environments – Radar, Regional and GAAP (General Aviation Aerodrome Procedures). Details on Airservices Australia’s control towers are available at the following web link: Tower postings (based on operational and training requirements) will be notified during the college phase of training.

Trainee acceptance of postings

It will be an express condition of the offer of training and employment that trainees agree to serve at any location in Australia at which Airservices Australia has an ATC presence. Candidates are asked to indicate their preference for stream, which may have an effect on location.

Appointment Conditions

ATC’s-in-training are employed under the relevant Certified Agreement.


Employment with Airservices Australia involves a probationary period which will last for the full duration of the Academy and Final Field Training periods. While on probation, an employee's attendance (including sick leave), medical fitness, work performance and conduct will be regularly assessed. It will be an express condition of an offer of training and employment that: trainees successfully complete Academy training, and, trainees successfully complete final field training and qualify for the issue of an initial ATC endorsement and Licence, and all other probationary requirements prove satisfactory. If a candidate does not successfully complete the training curriculum, including final field rating training, or if any other aspect of their employment is unsatisfactory, their probationary employment with Airservices Australia will be terminated.


Undergo and pass any medical examinations deemed necessary by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority for the purpose of determining whether an applicant qualifies for the issue of a Class 3 medical certificate.

Security Clearance

Security clearance (Police Records Check). Note: applicants who are assessed as "unfavourably recorded" will be ineligible for employment with Airservices Australia.

ATC salary ranges and advancement

Under the Certified Agreement, ATC salary rates, as at August 2008 will be as follows:

  • College Phase : $35 404
  • Final Field Training : $53 107
  • Upon Initial Rating : $72 071

These salary rates are inclusive of all penalty payments excluding extra duty (overtime) and Public Holiday duty.


Licensed Air Traffic Controllers have access to leave as follows:

  • Annual Leave - between four and five weeks per annum
  • Sick Leave - as required but subject to appropriate certification processes.
  • Long Service Leave - 3 months after ten years
  • Remote Locality Leave - extra annual leave - limited to eligible remote locations
A range of other leave provisions exist, and access to these is determined on merit on a case by case basis.

Shift work Air Traffic Controllers can be rostered to work on any day of the year including public holidays.

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