I am a UK Air Traffic Controller. AMA!
I work at a busy regional airport in the south of England. We were in the top 10 in the UK last year by aircraft movements, and we're getting busier. I am qualified and active in tower, approach and approach radar. I have instructor and assessor qualifications, and I've been in the job since 2015.
I've noticed threads about ATC in the US getting attention recently, so I thought this might be useful for anyone looking for information about the UK side of things. I can talk about the training process, the qualifications and how the job itself works, at least as far as my qualifications go. If there's anything you'd like to know - AMA!
I'm happy to answer about my experience of joining NATS (it's the initial route I'd recommend to anyone looking at getting in ATC), but my experience dates back about 15 years, so obviously your mileage may (and almost certainly will) vary.
I can answer about Area control but only in a fairly general way as I work at an airport. I did train for Area initially, but I am absolutely not an expert on that.
I won't be posting anything that identifies my place of work as I'm not speaking as a company representative, though anyone that wanted to could narrow down where I might work from the CAA movement statistics.
Edit: Thanks for all the questions everybody, I am working my way through!
Edit 2: Thanks again everyone, I think I ended up going through in reverse order, so I'm sorry for that. Still working through.
Edit 3: I'm getting a lot of similar questions so I'm starting to C&P some answers to reduce response time. I'm sorry to everyone I haven't got to yet!
Edit 4: I'm pretty wiped out for today, but I'll come back for more tomorrow. Thanks everybody, I hope you got some useful information out of me.
Edit 5: Here we go, day 2. A few FAQs:
How can I get a job as an ATCO?
I always suggest NATS in the first instance - it's the only organisation that will recruit you directly as a trainee controller, and pay you while you do so. Unfortunately it looks like their intake is closed at the moment, but you can still register your interest via that link.
Needless to say competition is high but if you do some research, learn about the job (Google CAP 493) and visit some units to get some background (look at the AIP for an airport you're interested in visiting - the telephone number for ATC will be in there) it will stand you in good stead during the selection process.
I'm a <insert nationality> ATCO. Can I get a job in the UK?
I don't know if the CAA offers any "conversion" pathways for licence holders from other countries, so you might have to follow the licencing process from scratch. As far as I know you don't have to be a UK citizen though, so it might be easier for you to make the transfer than it would be for me to do the reverse!
Your previous experience would probably qualify you for reduced training hours as a "previously valid" controller once you reach the unit you're working at. In addition some units have in their UTP provisions for trainees showing exceptional competence, which could reduce required training hours further.
Have you ever seen a UFO?
Yep! Occasionally on night shifts I used to see lights hovering in the sky too high to be a drone, and too low to be an aircraft. I'd notice them, then look back a few minutes later and they'd have disappeared. Happened a few times.
When I was idly zooming out the radar feed one night when it was quiet, I realised that I was seeing landing lights of aircraft being vectored for a large airport about 40 miles away, that happened to be facing me at the time. When the aircraft turned away, they "disappeared."
I felt pretty stupid.
How about that EE advert. Can you land a plane over the internet?
Everyone got a good laugh at that advert. You can't clear an aircraft to land over the internet.
Watch it again and you'll hear they don't even identify themselves as "Cambridge Tower" or "Cambridge Approach/Radar," and they don't clear the aircraft to land either. They call themselves "Cambridge Ops" (IIRC) and say "Runway XX available for landing," which is just giving the aircraft information, not permission to do anything.
Our operations team has their own frequency that they can use to talk to crews of airborne aircraft. Logistical details like how many vehicles the passengers need, any particular handling or fuelling needs, etc. That's all they were doing in this advert, not passing control instructions. The controlling happened at the tower like always. The "we landed a plane!" stuff is just laughable.
That said there are airports out there with remote towers, where the controllers are situated elsewhere, and control via cameras mounted at the airport.