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News / City Life

Quit your job, become an... air traffic controller

Quit your job, become an... air traffic controller
Andy Parsons

Stephanie Phillips, 31, air traffic controller at Heathrow

What attracted you to air traffic controlling?

‘I’ve never been one for paperwork, so I like that you just go into work, do your shift and then unplug afterwards.’

What's it like up in the control tower?

‘A lot of people think it’s hectic because of the busy-ness of Heathrow, but it’s very serene. You need to be calm to be an air traffic controller.’

What other qualities do you need?

‘You need to be able to work in a team, have good spatial awareness and be able to study because there’s a lot of training. It’s approximately five-to-nine months at the training college and then on-the-job training takes up to 18 months.’

Since you started, what's the strangest thing you've seen on the runway?

‘We often get foxes, and birds can be a problem, too. Especially the big ones like swans. I don’t know why, but they tend to be attracted to the grass right next to the runway.’

What's your typical day?

‘We have a working pattern of two mornings (7am-2pm), two afternoons ()-10pm) and two nights (10pm-7am) and then we have four days off. We usually have 16 people on each shift, with eight of us working at one time. Basically we’re in constant contact with every pilot of every plane at Heathrow, making sure they’re all separated, going the right way and the quickest route possible. You have a half-hour break every 90 minutes to make sure you don’t burn out.’

What's the best thing about the job?

‘There’s instant gratification because you get to see your plans in action. It’s like a big 3D jigsaw puzzle; you look out of the window and send one plane this way, have another plane go that way and cut ten minutes off another’s flight time. It’s nice to see everything moving and flowing.’

Hour: 40hrsp/w

Starting salary: £13,000 p/a

Qualifications: At least five GCSEs at C level including English and maths

Or, why not become a tailor?

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