Progression Guide

This section gives an overview of the controller "career ladder", and what you need to do at every step in order to progress to the next level. If you have any specific questions about your ATC training, your TG staff will be happy to help you.

If you have not yet gained a Student 1 rating or above then please refer to the New Controller page for more information.

ATC Ratings

VATSIM operates an ATC ratings system, where your rating determines what you can control on the network. The requirements for attaining each rating is explained in this section. Each rating is listed and explained below.

  • Observer - this is the default rating for all members. Can connect to the network and observe live traffic and ATC, but cannot control.
  • Student 1 (S1) - Tower Trainee
  • Student 2 (S2) - Tower rated controller.
  • Senior Student (S3) - Approach rated controller.
  • Controller (C1) - Area rated controller.
  • Senior Controller (C3) - Recognition rating for long-standing members.

Theory Training

Theory materials for ATC ratings above S1 can be found in the Downloads section of the website.

Theory Exams

In order to progress through the controller ratings, you will need to take a series of theory exams along the way as part of your training. The following is standard across all theory exams:

  • The exam will consist of 20 multiple choice questions selected at random from the database
  • The pass mark for all theory exams is 80%
  • You will be advised of the result of your exam immediately upon completion, together with a list of questions which you didn't answer correctly
  • You have 20 minutes to complete the exam. If your web browser supports Javascript a countdown timer will show your time remaining
  • Ensure you answer every question; unanswered questions will score as incorrect answers but will not deduct points from your score
  • If you fail the exam there is a 7 day waiting period before you may retake the exam, use this time to read up on the topics you were weaker on
  • It is only possible to attempt the theory exam for one level above your current rating i.e. a Student 2 can only attempt the Senior Student (S3) exam
  • You must register a pass in the theory exam for the appropriate level before you can be submitted for the practical exam

When you feel you are ready to take your next theory test, log in to the CT System and select "Theory Exams" from your Student menu. Good luck!

Student 1 (S1) -> Student 2 (S2)

Your training now moves onto Tower, and the skills required as a tower controller will be steadily introduced to you. Your training then continues until you are at the required standard in all aspects of the aerodrome criteria, when you will be forwarded for your Tower exam.

This will be carried out by a VATSIM UK examiner, who will be assessing you on the following areas:

  • Ability to decode METARs
  • Understanding local operating procedures for the airfield in order to provide satisfactory service and co-ordination to adjacent units
  • Understanding local handoff procedures for departing traffic
  • Controlling minimum of two aircraft in the VFR circuit
  • Communication and co-ordination with adjacent controllers
  • Understanding Tower area of responsibility
  • Safe separation on the ground and in the air
  • Ability to apply reasonable expedition consistent with safety
  • Understanding the IFR missed approach procedure
  • Go-arounds and where to use them
  • Taxi instructions
  • VFR aircraft joining and departing the field
  • Issuing IFR departure clearances complying with local SIDs and noise abatement procedures
  • Standard phraseology in accordance with CAP413

The exam shouldn't last any longer than 90 mins, and the examiner will be on hand to help you if you have any issues. At the end of the exam, you will be told whether you have passed or not. If you have passed, congratulations! You will now be upgraded to Student (S2). After the exam, you will receive detailed feedback through the RTS System on where you performed well and where you were a little weaker. Remember: perfection is not what is being looked for, but an ability to build on your existing experience and knowledge.

If you are not successful in the exam, the examiner will advise you whether you need some more training before re-attempting the exam. There is no minimum waiting period between practical exams.

Student 2 (S2) -> Senior Student (S3)

As a Student 2 controller, your training will now start on Approach (APP). You should continue to hone your skills on Tower, as you will be required to provide top-down cover in the absence of a separate Tower controller.

Before you can take the practical part of the S2>S3 exam, you must complete your Approach theory exam. This is a similar exam as your OBS>S1 Part 1, except that the topics covered relate to Approach:

  • Airspace classifications
  • Air Traffic Services Outside Controlled Airspace (ATSOCAS)
  • Wake separation standards
  • Aircraft limitations and performance
  • Effects of weather on aircraft performance
  • Stack management
  • METAR knowledge

There are a number of resources on the VATSIM UK site which can help you to study these areas; your mentor will also be happy to help.

As with your Tower training, once your mentor deems you to be at the required standard, you will be forwarded to take your practical exam, which is carried out by a VATSIM UK examiner. The exam will cover the following topics:

  • Understanding the area of responsibility of the position being controlled
  • Understanding local routing procedures, including SIDs and STARs as appropriate
  • Understanding difference between IFR, VFR and SVFR
  • Complying with local handoff procedures
  • Demonstrate knowledge of other control positions in the area
  • Aircraft types and performance
  • Decoding more advanced METARs
  • Using different separation techniques in appropriate circumstances
  • Proficiency in vectoring several aircraft for the appropriate approach
  • Providing safe separation
  • Stack management
  • Handling (S)VFR traffic
  • Using correct RT
  • Communicating and co-ordinating with adjacent controllers
  • Applying reasonable expedition consistent with safety

At the end of the exam, you will be advised of your result. If you have passed, congratulations, you are now a Senior Student (S3)!

Senior Student (S3) -> Controller (C1)

Area positions are the most complex types of ATC position to control, and require a large time commitment in order to learn all the materials and skills needed for the job. Area exams can be carried out on any core London sector (North, South, Central or West) or Scottish Control (SCO_CTR).

Before you can take your area practical exam, you need to take your last theory exam. This exam will cover the following:

  • UK airspace and classification
  • Interaction between ground speed, airspeed, mach number and altitude
  • Air Traffic Services Outside Controlled Airspace (ATSOCAS)
  • Aircraft limitations
  • Separation standards
  • Cruise levels both inside and outside controlled airspace
  • METAR knowledge

Before you start your online area training with a mentor, it is expected you spend some time learning the underlying Approach positions for the sector you wish to learn. Students are expected to be reasonably comfortable with the top-down services they may need to provide on their area sector.

Once you are test standard in every category, you will be forwarded for your exam. The practical exam, which is carried out by a VATSIM UK examiner, covers the following topics:

  • Understanding area of responsibility and standard routings
  • Understanding departure and arrival procedures
  • Knowledge of adjacent control positions and underlying airfields, complying with local handoff procedures
  • Knowledge of aircraft types and performance
  • Ability to use different forms of separation in appropriate circumstances
  • Understanding SID, STAR and IAP charts
  • Vectoring aircraft for approach
  • Stack management and levels
  • Correct RT
  • Communication and co-ordination with adjacent sectors
  • Maintaining standard separation
  • Applying reasonable expedition consistent with safety

At the end of your exam, you will be advised of your result. If you have passed, congratulations! You now hold the Controller (C1) rating.

Controller (C1) -> Senior Controller (C3)

The senior controller rating is the highest rating achievable within VATSIM. Senior Controllers will have: progressed through all of the VATSIM ratings, spent significant time online, developed their controlling skills, given back to the community and acquired a variety of knowledge and skills as a result.

Minimum Requirements - you must have achieved:

  • 100 hours post-C1 on the sector the member took the C1 exam on, plus 40 hours post-C1 on other CTR sectors within the EGTT/EGPX FIR. Time controlling a sector split (LTC, LON_E, etc) will not be counted. Time controlling a bandboxed position (e.g. LON_SC, LON_CTR) that includes your exam sector may only be counted towards your 100 hours requirement. Time controlling a bandboxed position that does not include your exam sector may only be counted towards your 40 hours requirement.

  • *20 hours as a mentor on CTR positions.

  • *40 hours as a mentor on GND through to APP (including OBS part 2’s).

*Mentoring hours will be gathered by the Training Department.

Additional Requirements - In addition to the minimum requirements, you must have contributed in any 2 of the activities:

  • Controlled a CTR position for an exam 5 times post-C1.

  • Controlled a CTR position during an event 5 times post-C1.

  • Made notable contribution(s) to their home or area RTS. This can include:

  • Creating or Updating training material (vMATS, crib sheets or airport info).

  • Creating or Updating sector files or tools used to assist controllers. 

  • Introduce new operational procedures for airports or sectors.

Upgrade Process 
Should you achieve the minimum requirements plus any 2 of the additional requirements you may then be rewarded with a C3 rating. The ATC Training Department does not audit C1 controllers and thus you will need to submit a ticket to the ATC Training Department via the Helpdesk with the following information. Please do not submit your application until you have fully achieved all of the requirements by an obvious margin, as processing applications which barely meet the requirements takes far longer to verify.

  • CID + Full Name.

  • List of events controlled for and the positions controlled.

  • List of exams controlled for and the positions controlled.

  • Brief summary of notable contributions.


We offer the following endorsements for each listed facility within the UK. For further information, please visit the endorsements page.

  • Gatwick GND (S1 only)
  • Heathrow GND/TWR/APP (S2+)
  • Military TWR/APP (S2+)
  • Shanwick (Oceanic) (C1+)
  • London Bandbox (C1+)