Air traffic controllers are responsible for the safe and expeditious movement of aircraft in and around airports and other-high traffic areas. They coordinate take-offs and landings and make sure all the aircraft stay a safe distance apart.
Controllers communicate with pilots during flights to direct them during take-off and landing and to tell them about their route, weather conditions, runway closures, and other important information.
The main purpose of air traffic control is to help the aircraft safely get to its destination. The job is also important for minimizing delays at the airport. Air traffic controllers help aircraft arrive and leave as smoothly and quickly as possible while staying safe.
What It’s Like to Be an Air Traffic Controller
Air traffic controllers usually work in control facilities or towers. Because most are responsible for aircraft take-offs and landings, it’s common to work near large airports. The lighting and air conditioning in control centers is optimized for comfort and concentration.
Air traffic control jobs are essential, but they can be stressful. Controllers usually work eight-hour shifts, but they have to focus carefully the entire time. Aircraft fly at all hours of the day and night, so air traffic controllers may have to switch between day and night shifts or work on weekends and holidays. The FAA limits shifts to 10 hours and requires that controllers have at least nine hours of rest between shifts.
How to Become an Air Traffic Controller
One way to become an air traffic controller is to get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from an approved Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program. There are 36 schools in the United States that offer AT-CTI programs.
You can also become a controller if you have at least three years of work experience, a bachelor’s degree in another field, or a combination of the two. According to the FAA, one year of college or 30 semester hours is equal to nine months of work experience.
To begin a career in air traffic control in the United States, you must be younger than 31 years of age. You also must complete training at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, pass a pre-employment test, and undergo a medical exam.
Career Prospects for Air Traffic Controllers
As of 2017, there were just under 23,000 air traffic controllers working in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of air traffic control jobs will grow by 3 percent by 2026. The field is highly competitive with many candidates applying for each opening, but jobs do open up fairly regularly as air traffic controllers are eligible to retire earlier than most people.
Air Traffic Control Jobs – Salaries
In 2017, the median salary for air traffic controllers was $124,540. The highest 10 percent of workers earned over $175,800, and the lowest 10 percent of workers earned less than $67,440.
Your salary depends on your years of experience, the location of your facility, and the complexity of your flight paths. As you complete extra levels of on-the-job training, your salary may increase.