How To Become An Air Traffic Controller
Career Video: Air Traffic Controller
Do you have an excellent attention to detail and an impeccable ability to multi-task? Are you interested in the many aspects of aviation? Would you like to be a part of a team that helps guide pilots and other airport grounds crews to ensure the safety and efficiency of flying? If you have the skills and interest required, you could find a remarkable career in air traffic control.
Why Become An Air Traffic Controller
Air traffic controllers are responsible for coordinating and directing air traffic. Their job is crucial to preventing accidents, as well as maintaining schedules. People in this position don’t just communicate with pilots regarding air space; they are responsible for managing many logistical aspects of air traffic. Air traffic controllers’ duties include communicating with pilots and airport personnel regarding takeoff and landing procedures; coordinating all vehicle traffic on the ground and in the air; keeping pilots informed of safety concerns, such as weather or runway issues; and administering emergency procedures as well as transfers of control.
Capable of using a variety of technological tools, air traffic controllers maintain the air space of multiple aircrafts at once and must exhibit many crucial skills to maintain safety and integrity:
- Understanding of geography and topography
- Quick decision-making
- Detail oriented
- Spatial reasoning
- Excellent memory
- Numerically savvy
Air Traffic Controller Work Environment
As one may have guessed, air traffic controllers work for airport facilities. Their physical work environments consist of control towers, en route centers, and approach control facilities. While the majority of air traffic controllers work onsite, en route centers are typically located offsite, in secure office space. Approach/departure controllers work with radar screens, so their physical work environment consists of a dimly lit setting. All controllers may work for large or small, commercial or private airports.
The role of an air traffic controller is a stressful one, and for this reason, controllers are required to retire at age 56. They typically only work 20 to 25 years in this capacity.
Air Traffic Controller Salary
As of May 2014, the median annual salary for an air traffic controller was $122,340. The salary for this occupation ranges anywhere from $67,070 to $172,000 per year. Salary is dependent upon many factors, including experience, complexity of assignment, and airport location. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) offers increasing salaries for controllers once they have completed their progressive onsite training.
Most airports require round-the-clock control, so the majority of controllers work fulltime, during the weekends and holidays. Airports must have controllers onsite throughout the day and night, so controllers may not always work during normal business hours. Less busy airports that do not offer this extent of services may provide controllers with more normal work shifts.
Air Traffic Controller Career Outlook
A career as an air traffic controller may be difficult to obtain, because the field is expected to shrink by 9 percent in the next decade. The reasons for this have more to do with the advent of new technologies that allow fewer controllers to perform the same amount of work. However, the number of flights required to service needs is increasing, so there will continue to be a demand for controllers. The majority of positions will come from retirements, and those in their early 20s will most likely have an easier time finding employment.
Air Traffic Controller Degree
Aspiring air traffic controllers must meet a variety of requirements, as well as complete a number of training options:
Step 1: Meet training options.
Option 1: Train to be an air traffic controller through the military.
Option 2: Complete an Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program through the FAA Academy. This program is offered as an associate (2-year) or bachelor’s (4-year) degree.
Option 3: Complete a combination of progressive work experience, a bachelor’s degree, or work experience with post-secondary training to total at least 3 years.
Step 2: Meet other qualifications:
- U.S. citizen
- Pass a medical examination
- Pass a security investigation
- Pass the FAA pre-employment tests for air traffic controller
- Excellent communication skills in English
- Begin at the FAA Academy no later than one’s 31st birthday