Airways - Making your world possible

Become an Air Traffic Services Specialist

Keeping our skies safe is a big responsibility. It takes a certain kind of person with the right skills, aptitude and attitude. In return it offers a career full of challenges, opportunities, rewards and a sense of purpose and achievement.

Have you got what it takes to train as an Air Traffic Controller (ATC)? Applications are now open for our October 2022 intake of students. Apply now at this link, and find everything you need to know on this page about training to be an ATC.  Applications close on 22 July 2022.


* This training is for New Zealand residents and Australian citizens only. Students will complete New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) approved qualifications.

What do Air Traffic Services Specialists do?

Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) are responsible for the safe and efficient movement of aircraft, and provide pilots with flight information so every flight takes off, flies and lands safely. They either work in surveillance control centres or in airport control towers and use various equipment, such as radar and radios to communicate advice and instructions to pilots.

Flight Service Operators (FSOs) work in an aerodrome or in our main surveillance centre, and give advice and information for the safe and efficient movement of flights.

What are the different roles?

Each "controller" has different areas of responsibility. In New Zealand, they work from our surveillance centre in Christchurch, our Oceanic Control centre in Auckland, or in one of 17 control towers throughout the country.

Aerodrome/Tower controllers

Enable the safe and efficient operation of aircraft near the aerodrome. They are based at an aerodrome's control tower and control traffic visually within the control zone.

Area Surveillance controllers

Work in enroute upper airspace sectors and are responsible for keeping aircraft separate in the airspace around them.

Approach Surveillance controllers

Manage and sequence traffic approaching and departing an aerodrome. They handle arriving and departing aircraft by working closely with both Area Surveillance controllers and Tower controllers.

Flight Service Operators

Provide key advice and information, such as weather updates and operational info to aircraft operating outside controlled airspace.

Have you got what it takes to be an Air Traffic Services Specialist?

We’re looking for people with the ability to visualise and react to situations in the right kind of way. Are you:

  • decisive and goal focused?
  • able to adapt quickly to changing situations?
  • an excellent communicator and team player?
  • able to learn theory and apply it in a practical situation?
  • able to mentally picture objects moving in three dimensions?

If you believe you can answer yes to all of the above, then you may have the skills and attributes we're looking for to successfully work in air traffic services!

Are you eligible to apply?

You need to meet the following eligibility criteria in order to become an air traffic services specialist in New Zealand:

  • Be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident, or Australian citizen
  • Be aged at least 20 (for ATC) or 18 (for FSO) when you start training
  • Qualified to a minimum of Level 2 NCEA pass (12 credits pass in Maths at Level 1 and 8 credits in English at Level 2) and 42 other credits at Level 3 or equivalent (Alternatively, we accept a New Zealand PPL or CPL, and we consider your work experience.)
  • Okay about working shift work, and willing to relocate anywhere within New Zealand
  • Able to meet the requirements for a Civil Aviation Authority class three medical certificate, and ‘fit and proper person’. 

If this sounds like you, read on. You’re the kind of student we are looking for, and this may be the right kind of rewarding training programme for you.

How do I get selected?

Training to become an ATC or FSO is both demanding and rewarding. Making the cut for the training programme is not easy! We use our carefully designed selection process to offer training to those people with the exact skills and attributes we need. The intent of this robust process is to maximise students' chance of success and achievement of their full potential.

With only 2-3% of the global population possessing the competencies to become an ATC, selecting the right people from the start saves you, the student, time and money by improving your chances for training success. The selection process may take 6 to 12 months.

The selection process


Apply online

Complete your online application, including some information about yourself, and evidence of your qualifications. We'll then review, and select candidates to take through to testing.


Aptitude testing

We'll assess your aptitude via a range of online tests and assessments - covering detail accuracy, spatial awareness, memory, multi-tasking exercises, and a personality assessment.


Assessment Centre

If selected, you’ll attend a one-day assessment in Christchurch. You’ll take further aptitude tests, be assessed in group and individual activities, and undertake an interview. You'll also tour our radar centre and Christchurch control tower.



Following successful reference checks, you will be offered a place on an upcoming training course, subject to a criminal check, drug testing and meeting the Civil Aviation Authority’s medical requirements.

What will the training involve?

Once you are selected to join a training programme, you will be enrolled in the New Zealand Certificate in Air Traffic Services (Level 5) and the New Zealand Diploma in Air Traffic Services (Level 6). Training begins online via self-directed learning for a period of four weeks. You will then join us at the Airways Training Centre in Christchurch for further theory and practical training - for eight to nine months (ATC) or six weeks (FSO).

ATC students spend six weeks undertaking theoretical training in a small class environment, followed by 25 weeks training in our state-of-the-art simulators, to apply the theory learned.

Where will I complete on-job training?

When you start on-the-job training with Airways, you will relocate to one of our towers or surveillance centres for four to nine months to complete your level 7 diploma (the New Zealand Diploma in Air Traffic Services). The time spent in on-job training is dependent on the location and your learning capacity.

Locations for on-the-job ATC training vary for each course, however these locations typically include Rotorua, Palmerston North, Napier, Invercargill and New Plymouth Towers. For FSO, training is either in the Tower at Paraparaumu, Milford Sound, or in our surveillance centre in Christchurch. Other regional towers are also occasionally used as on-the-job training locations.

Students are advised of the training locations during their initial training course. While we take your preferences into consideration, you must be flexible and have the ability to relocate.

Full training takes around 12 to 18 months, however may take longer.

The training process


Become a student

Once you successfully complete the selection process, you'll be offered the chance to join one of our training courses. Each course intake is six to twelve students.


Academy training

The first four weeks of training is online, self-directed learning, followed by six weeks of theoretical training in Christchurch. FSO students then begin on-job training. ATC students continue in the training academy with 22 weeks working in our simulators.


On-the-job training

When you’ve completed theory and simulator training, you'll undertake on-the-job training for four to nine months. For ATC students this will most likely be in one of our regional towers - working with real aircraft, supervised by an experienced ATC or FSO.


Graduating as an ATC or FSO

When you've completed on-the-job training and shown that you can deal consistently with all traffic situations, you'll undertake a final proficiency assessment. On successful completion you'll be issued your Air Traffic Control (ATC) or Flight Service Operator (FSO) licence and rating from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

What are the career opportunities?

Once you’ve completed training you can apply for a job with Airways subject to a pre-employment drug test and a Ministry of Justice criminal records check. Most new Airways air traffic services staff start their careers at a regional control tower, where they gain experience before seeking positions in towers at our international airports or in one of our surveillance centres. A small number of controllers will be employed directly into a surveillance centre. With experience, there are also opportunities to pursue a range of related specialist and management roles.

How do I apply?

AIRWAY052 Wellington DM232

Want to know more?

Our FAQs page contains all the details that will help you decide if a career in air traffic services is right for you.

Find out more