ATCO Licensing

ATCO Licensing


The purpose of air traffic controller (ATCO) licensing is to enable each National Aviation Authority (NAA) to regulate air traffic controllers within their State. The system includes the issue, maintenance and, where necessary, the revocation of ATCO licences.

The ATCO licence identifies the holder:

  • as a person who is qualified to provide ATC service
  • it contains details, usually described as ratings and endorsements, of the type(s) of ATC service that the licence holder may provide and
  • it may restrict the ATC Unit(s) where the holder may provide these services.

The acquisition of a valid licence requires that specified requirements relating to professional competency and medical fitness be met and, for retention, that these be checked at specified time intervals. Competency in the use of English Language may also have to be demonstrated and endorsed in an ATCO Licence.

Important Issues

Since ICAO Annex 1 was first published, there has been a significant increase in the volume of air traffic. Although Annex 1 has been amended, the basic licensing procedures, including the ratings, have remained unchanged. The increase in traffic, together with new technology, has led to more complex ATC procedures which in turn have required some ATCOs to become more specialised and to use more advanced controlling techniques.

European ATCO Licensing

In Europe, the structure for a harmonised European ATCO licence has been developed to enable the licence qualifications to more closely match the ATC services being provided and to permit the recognition of additional ATC skills associated with the evolution of ATC systems and their related controlling procedures. It has not yet been adopted by all States.

Although the harmonised European ATC licence retains the basic principles of the ICAO licence, new ratings have been introduced. The ICAO Aerodrome Control rating is divided into two, Aerodrome Control Visual (ADV) and Aerodrome Control Instrument (ADI). The ADI rating must have one or more rating endorsements associated with it. The new system removes all references to the equipment associated with ratings such as radar and the ICAO Approach Radar Control and Area Radar Control ratings become respectively the Approach Control Surveillance (APS) and Area Control Surveillance (ACS) ratings. To be valid, both these ratings must include a Radar or ADS endorsement. The Approach Control and Area Control ratings are renamed to become the Approach Control Procedural and the Area Control Procedural ratings to more clearly indicate that no surveillance equipment is used while providing air traffic control services using these ratings. A student ATCO licence has also been introduced to enable NAAs to regulate persons in training for an ATCO licence. Student ATCOs are prospective ATCOs who have successfully completed an approved Initial Training course and passed any associated assessments or examinations.

Rating Endorsements

Rating Endorsements are endorsements associated with particular ratings to indicate the type of equipment associated with the provision of an ATC service in that rating discipline. For example, the ICAO Approach Radar Control rating becomes the Approach Control Surveillance rating with a Radar endorsement; the endorsement indicating that radar is the surveillance equipment used in providing the ATC service.

Unit Endorsements

Unit endorsements are endorsements associated with specific ratings and rating endorsements which indicate the ATC Unit and the individual sectors, groups of sectors or operational positions where the licence holder provides an ATC service.

Licence Endorsement

Licence endorsements are endorsements associated with the licence, but not with any particular rating or rating endorsement. Currently, the only licence endorsement possible on an ATCO Licence issued under the new European system is the On-the-Job-Training Instructor (OJTI) endorsement.

Ownership of a Licence

ATCO licences are the property of the licence holders, who are responsible for ensuring use of the licence in accordance with the privileges accorded by the licence. The holder may only provide the ATC services for which valid ratings are held and in accordance with the valid rating(s) and any associated rating and Unit endorsement(s) contained in the licence. Where any conditions are placed on the licence, for example the wearing of corrective spectacles, the licence holder is responsible for ensuring compliance with such restriction.

Related Articles

Further Reading


  • ICAO Annex 1 - Personnel licensing
  • ICAO Doc 9379 - Manual of Procedures for Establishment and Management of a State's Personnel Licensing System
  • ICAO Doc 9841 - Manual on the Approval of Flight Crew Training Organizations
  • ICAO Doc 8984 Manual of Civil Aviation Medicine - Third Edition, 2012




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