How to Become an Air Traffic Controller

Written by

George D. Baker


August 14, 2014


Every day tens of thousands of airplanes take off and land in the United States. The pilots flying these airplanes need assistance with taking off, in flight directions, and landing. Highly trained professionals are essential to guide aircraft and pilots to ensure safety and the best possible service. This is the job of air traffic controllers.

What does an air traffic controller do?

Air traffic controllers manage the air traffic control system to speed up and maintain a safe and arranged air traffic flow and to help prevent mid-air collisions. They organize the movement of air traffic to make sure a safe distance between all airplanes and direct aircraft to minimize delays. Some controllers regulate traffic for airport arrivals and departures and other regulate the traffic through designated airspaces.

Air traffic controllers use visual observation and radar devises to closely monitor each and every airplane. They also guide pilots and keep them informed on weather changes. Often times during arrivals and departures several controllers direct each aircraft. There are specific names for each duty of the controllers such as ground, local, radar, airport tower, and enroute controllers.

What kind of training does an air traffic controller need?

Air traffic controllers must complete an education program that is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), receive a school recommendation, meet basic qualification requirements according to Federal law, and pass a FAA-authorized pre-employment test. Applicants must also pass a medical examination, drug screening, and obtain clearance for security before they can be offered a job. Candidates usually have to have a minimum of 3 years full-time work experience and completed 4 full years of college.

Once selected, applicants attend the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma for 12 weeks of training. They are then assigned to facilities and receive on the job training for certification requirements for typically 2 to 4 years.

What are the prospects for a career in air traffic control?

Employment for air traffic controllers is projected to grow about as fast as average for all professions, increasing 10% through 2016 (1).

Job prospects are expected to be great with the best prospects for air traffic controllers who graduated from an FAA training program. Many employment opportunities will stem from the need to replace people who retire or leave the field for other reasons.

How much do air traffic controllers make?

As of 2012, air traffic controllers with less than 1 year experience earned annual salaries around $41,486. Those with 1 to 4 years experience earned around $41,587 a year (2).

A career as an air traffic controller is a great choice for individuals who can articulate efficiently to give clear and quick directions to pilots. A good memory and high intelligence are important qualities because air traffic controllers constantly receive a great deal of information that they have to understand, interpret, and remember immediately. 

Becoming an Air Traffic Controller Requires Skills & Training, Start Today

Are you serious about becoming an Air Traffic Controller? Then you need to get the required skills and training to do it! To start your new career, first you must decide what school you want to enroll in, so you need to gather info about potential schools. Use the  College Mouse Course Search tool  to find the right course and college for you, and get started towards your new dream job today! If you want more personalized assistance, call (888) 389-7996 TOLL FREE to speak with a college advisor, who will help you find the best college for you. After you sign up for your course, make sure you fill out and submit the FAFSA so you can take advantage of any financial aid currently available to you!

Written by:  George D. Baker

George D. Baker is a long-time contributor to College Mouse. Now retired, Mr. Baker volunteers at adult education programs in his local community.

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