How To Become An Air Traffic Controller

An Air Traffic Controller keeps our skies safe! Sounds simple, right? But in reality, becoming an Air Traffic Controller is a HUGE responsibility that requires the proper training. 

The Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, reports many fascinating numbers to consider. Take a look:

  • There are 16,405,000 flights in operation by the FAA annually,
  • That’s 45,000 flights per day.
  • On average, there are 5,400 pieces of aircraft in the sky at peak operational times,
  • Covering 24,100,000 miles of oceanic airspace.
  • There are 19,633 U.S. Airports, generating over 10,857,000 jobs in the field of Aviation.
  • It’s a 488 billion-dollar-per-year industry! 

So, learn how to get your share of the profits by becoming an Air Traffic Controller! There are several ways to obtain your dream of becoming an Air Traffic Controller. Here, we will answer your questions… so you can get started today.  

Related Article: The 40 Highest Paying Jobs With A Trade School Education

Table of Contents

What does an Air Traffic Controller do?

The main objective for the Air Traffic Controller is to maintain a safe distance between aircraft in the air and on the ground as they watch airplanes taxiing the runway for landing or take off. They also must keep a watchful eye on weather conditions that may affect flights, as well as other important information about runway closures or emergencies. 

What are the various paths to becoming an Air Traffic Controller?

Perhaps the best way to become an Air Traffic Controller is to enroll in a trade-type school that specializes in the field, such as that offered through the Federal Aviation Administration. They offer the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative, or AT-CTI, program.

In addition, there is another route that includes:

  • Earning a Bachelor’s degree in an aviation-related field,
  • Have at least three years of work experience.

You can choose an option that best fits your goal and geographical location. The AT-CTI program is offered in several areas around the U.S.

How long will it take to become an Air Traffic Controller?

The answer to this question can vary greatly. Depending on your program, you will generally need an Associate or Bachelor’s degree from an AT-CTI program, which can be completed between two and four years. Long-term on-the-job training is also required; although, earning a bachelor’s degree in aviation may allow you to meet the “experience” requirement more quickly. 

In some instances, FAA Academy training may only take two to five months to complete; however, extensive on-the-job training is a must, perhaps three years or more. 

To summarize, your route to becoming an Air Traffic Controller may be different from someone else’s; therefore, you can expect anywhere from five years or more to become fully certified, in most cases.  

What is the cut-off age for becoming an ATCO?

You must apply for Air Traffic Controller training before you turn 31 years old. Now, there is one exception to that. If you have former military training in the field, you can apply after the age of 31.

And, if you are interested in an early retirement… This is the job for you because you will be required to retire by the age of 56. 

What qualifications do I need for becoming a Controller?

To be an ATCO, you must adhere to these qualifications: 

  • Be a U.S. citizen, 
  • Pass all medical requirements, such as drug screening and a physical,
  • Pass a background check,
  • Begin your training by age 31,
  • Complete your training, with your required work experience,
  • Pass the Air Traffic Controller certification examination, 
  • Pass the FAA pre-employment test, including a biodata test. 

What kind of salary can I expect as an Air Traffic Controller?

As of May 2020, the BLS reported the estimated average salary of an Air Traffic Controller is $130,420 annually, with the highest 10% earning upwards of $184,780 per year with experience. 

What is the job outlook for becoming an ATCO?

Actually, the job outlook is a little slower than average at an expected 1% growth rate between 2019 and 2029. Although the growth does predict an increase, it will be limited. 

How many hours per week do Air Traffic Controllers work?

Working as an ATCO is a full-time job; however, the FAA regulates your air hours. Typically, you can work no more than 10 hours at a time and must have nine hours of rest between each shift. But, you should be prepared to work all hours of the day or night, as well as weekends and holidays. 

What types of ATCO should I consider?

Three are three types of work to consider in this field, such as: 

  • Tower Controller – Instructs the movements of vehicles on the taxiways and runways and gives clearance for landing and take off. They manage traffic in a three to thirty-mile radius from the airport. 
  • Approach & Departure Controllers – Ensures that aircraft are safe between twenty to fifty miles from the airport and up to 17,000 feet up in the air. Watching weather conditions, they keep a safe distance between aircraft and maintain flight paths. 
  • En Route Controllers – Guides aircraft after leaving an airport’s airspace, ensuring safety and efficiency. 

What kind of certification do I need to be a Controller?

Air Traffic Controllers must be appropriately certified by the FFA. You will need to pass an examination and meet the minimum experience requirements to gain your certification.

Is the job of an Air Traffic Controller stressful?

As you can imagine, the Air Traffic Controller’s job is a huge responsibility as many people’s lives will depend on your knowledge, skills, and capabilities. It will require maximum concentration without distractions; however, you will be prepared to handle emergencies accordingly, knowing you have done your job well and confidently with proper training.