Ministry of Business and Innovation - Occupation Outlook

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Air Traffic Controllers

Job Prospects

Job Prospects... At a glance

Entry into this occupation is difficult as only a limited number of air traffic controllers are needed in New Zealand. Very few new air traffic controllers are recruited each year and competition for openings is intense. For those who are already in this occupation, job prospects are good and incomes are very high.

How to become an air traffic controller

What they do

Air traffic controllers direct and coordinate aircraft in flight and on the ground to make sure air traffic is safe and organised.

Their tasks may include:

  • providing flight information for flight crews and air traffic services staff
  • controlling aircraft movements, and directing aircraft taxiing, take-offs and landings by radio
  • providing pre-flight briefings and aeronautical information services.

Qualifications needed

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requires air traffic controllers to hold a licence.

To become a CAA-licensed air traffic controller you need a Diploma in Air Traffic Control (Level 7), involving a six-month course and on-the-job training. The diploma course is run by Airways New Zealand. To get into the course you must pass aptitude tests, interviews and group exercises, and be at least 20-years-old at the start of your training. Entry into the diploma course is very competitive.

Airways NZ, air traffic control training:

Cost of study

Diploma in Air Traffic Control (Level 7)
$14,000 over six months

Average costs in 2018 for a domestic student. Costs vary between institutions. First time students may be eligible for fees-free tertiary education for their first year of study, which will reduce the total cost. For more information about fees-free eligibility, go to Further costs include materials, fuel, and accommodation.

Rents vary from place to place. Estimated market rents by region, city and suburb are available on the MBIE Tenancy Services website.

The StudyLink website provides general budget advice for students, and the Sorted website provides help with detailed budget planning.

Tenancy Services:

Where to study

You can study for a Diploma in Air Traffic Control at Airways NZ in Christchurch.

Airways NZ:

Completed qualifications

The number of students completing a diploma in the broader category ‘Aerospace engineering and technology’, has been between 150 and 200 since 2011. Although this also includes graduates in jobs other than air traffic controller, it indicates that the supply of graduates has been fairly stable.

Qualification completions chart


Source: Ministry of Education

Income and employment prospects


Air traffic controllers’ income depends on experience. They generally earn between $80,000 and $180,000.

In 2018, the average annual income for air transport professionals was estimated to be around $139,000.

Estimated Average Income

Source: MBIE estimates based on Statistics NZ Census and Labour Cost Index.

Employment and skill shortages

Air traffic controllers’ employment

HistoricProjected Growth
2006 2013 2023 2028
411 453 460 490
  1.4% 0.1% 1.0%

Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections. Percentages are compound annual growth rates.
*Growth projections are for the broader category “Air and Marine Transport Professionals”.

Employment of air traffic controllers increased between 2006 and 2013, but it is still a small occupation in terms of employment. Employment growth for the broader category ‘Air transport professionals’ is projected to be at 0.1% annually until 2023, and at 1.0% annually until 2028. Because of the small size of the occupation and the small growth in employment, only a few job openings come up each year.

Employment chart

Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections

Outcomes after qualification completion*

OverseasIn further studyReceiving a benefitIn employmentMedian Salary
21% 16% 2% 71% $50,000

Source: Tertiary Education Commission
*Three years after completion of L5, 6 or 7 Diploma - Aerospace Engineering & Technology.

Most graduates were in employment after completing a Level 5, 6 or 7 diploma in the broader category ‘Aerospace engineering and technology’. Almost none were receiving a benefit. The median salary was around $50,000. Note: graduates who are employed as air traffic controllers are likely to earn significantly more than this three years after graduation.

Air traffic controllers are not on Immigration New Zealand’s immediate skill shortage list.

Immigration NZ, skill shortage list:

Where to find job vacancies

Air traffic controller vacancies are advertised through public media such as the Trade Me Jobs and Seek websites.

Trade Me Jobs:

Career path

Air traffic controllers are employed by Airways New Zealand.

Air traffic controllers start their careers in regional control towers, dealing only with domestic flights. As they gain experience, they may move on to international flights. Some experienced air traffic controllers become managers or an instructor for new air traffic controllers.

Related occupations

The following occupations are related roles or alternative titles. Some of the roles may require a higher level of skill than entry-level air traffic controllers.

  • Aeroplane Pilot
  • Flying Instructor
  • Helicopter Pilot

Other information


More information on air traffic controllers is available on the Careers New Zealand website, or on Airways New Zealand’s website.

Careers New Zealand:
Airways New Zealand:


The Australian New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) is the official classification of occupations in New Zealand.

The occupation of air traffic controllers has been coded to the following ANZSCO code for the purpose of this report:

231112 – Air Traffic Controller