While on his patch delivering post and packages in Glasgow, Nick Shewan never imagined that five years later he’d be working to help safely shepherd passengers flying off on their holidays.
The former Strathclyde University student was working part-time as a postman for the Royal Mail and as a supervisor in a local cinema when a friend gave him the push to apply for his dream career.
“I’d always liked the idea of working in air traffic control and wondered if I would be right for the job, but didn’t have the confidence when I was younger,” said Cairngorm-born Nick.
“One of my pals gave me the boost I needed and sent me a link to the NATS website.”
In 2014, he tried his skill at the online games at www.nats.aero/careers/trainee-air-traffic-controllers/games and it spurred him to apply. He then went through the process of interviews and computer tests that look at skills in alertness, reaction time and multi-tasking skills. After getting a place on the course in June 2016, Nick, now aged 29, packed his bags and moved to Hampshire to attend NATS’ state-of-the-art training centre near Southampton and begin training in his new career.
“I’d been quite good at the games and at the college I realised that problem-solving is an important skill for a controller. You’re in charge; you’ve got to come up with the best solution to safely move each aircraft on the screen in front of you while considering where it’s come from, where it’s going, its weight, size and speed, and taking into account the movements of all the other aircraft around it,” said Nick.
He’s been learning the basics of air traffic control theory, including meteorology, navigation and aircraft performance, and is beginning take on more practical tasks including guiding aircraft through the air on the simulators.
Nick is training to become a controller who helps aircraft transit through high altitudes – and it’s proving to be a real journey for him too. He’s learning how to keep aircraft safely separated, using the radar and talking to pilots over the radio. Having the support of his fellow air traffic control students, as well as top training from the NATS instructors, keeps Nick motivated.
He said: “Since starting the course I’ve met new friends – they’ve become my family. We all work hard together because we all want to succeed.
“The trainers are fantastic – we’re getting specialist training and they’re incredibly supportive while teaching us all the skills we need. I’ve also met a number of qualified, validated controllers and they’re really encouraging and positive. Before starting at NATS, I didn’t have much knowledge about aviation, but that’s OK – you don’t need it to start the job. You don’t need to be an ex-pilot or in the RAF – you’ll be taught everything you need to know.”
The job has its perks too – senior controllers can earn up to a six-figure annual salary. Part of the attraction for Nick is that it’s a lifelong career throughout which he can continue to develop his skills. He also prefers shift work to working a normal, nine-to-five day and, after qualification, air traffic controllers don’t – can’t – take their work home with them.
These benefits, along with his positivity and determination, drive him to get through the training towards his goal of becoming a validated controller.
“You need a good work ethic and must be keen to learn. It’s all about how you’re willing to improve and being open to constructive feedback – use it to go forward and progress.
“It’s such an exciting job. I wish I’d done it when I was 18. I’m really grateful I was told about this. Everyone I speak to says NATS is great to work for, with a great atmosphere – and air traffic control is a skill that not many people have.
“I’ll be absolutely delighted to complete my initial training and, after that, working at Prestwick is my dream as it’s close to my family. Being an air traffic controller is a very important job – and it’s a privilege to be able to help people on their journeys.”
NATS is recruiting for trainee air traffic controllers. For more details on how to become an air traffic controller or to apply, visit www.nats.aero/careers/trainee-air-traffic-controllers