Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

Air Traffic Control Career Path

Controlling air traffic is an exciting and high-pressure career, where every second counts. Air traffic controllers guide planes, safely and efficiently, through some of the busiest airspaces in the world.


As planes take flight every day carrying millions of passengers, air traffic controllers work behind the scenes ensuring all these planes arrive at their destinations safely. They communicate with pilots using specific procedures and clearances to direct planes on the ground and in the air. Controllers monitor radar displays tracking dozens of planes simultaneously, issuing corrections when necessary to avoid collisions.


Most air traffic controllers start out at smaller airports and progress to more complex facilities like large commercial airports or terminal radar approach control facilities. As controllers gain experience, they are eligible for supervisory roles overseeing and mentoring other controllers. The most experienced controllers may become trainers, instructors, or managers within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).


To become an air traffic controller, you must be a U.S. citizen, pass a medical exam and an air traffic pre-hire aptitude test. A bachelor’s degree is not required, but you must complete the FAA’s air traffic control training which lasts from 6 months to 2 years depending on the facility and position. Even after being certified, controllers undergo recurrent training and evaluations throughout their careers.


In addition to the training and certifications, air traffic controllers need strong multi-tasking and problem-solving skills to monitor and direct multiple aircraft simultaneously. They must also remain calm under pressure and make quick yet accurate decisions. Controllers work in a fast-paced environment, often stationed for long periods of time with minimal breaks. Shift work including nights, weekends and holidays is also common.


The FAA projects there will be a 19% growth in Air Traffic Control jobs from 2020 to 2030, due to retirements. However, becoming an air traffic controller is very competitive with less than 3% of applicants being hired each year. Those who can obtain an Air Traffic Control certificate and gain experience at a smaller airport have the best chances of advancing to more complex and higher paying air traffic control positions.

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