How To 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.

Why Become An Air Traffic Controller

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:

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 full-time, 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.

Average Air Traffic Controller Annual Salary


The average annual salary for air traffic controllers is $120,260 a year. Salaries start at $67,440 a year and go up to $175,800 a year.

Average Air Traffic Controller Hourly Wage


The average hourly wage for a air traffic controller is $57.82. Hourly wages are between $32.42 and $84.52 an hour.

Stats were based out of 22,790 employed air traffic controllers in the United States.

Highest Paying States For Air Traffic Controllers

Top Paying Cities For Air Traffic Controllers

Data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

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. 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:

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