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Aircraft Traffic Controller: Starting Pay, Job Duties and Career Info

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an air traffic controller. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about salary, job duties and the FAA Training Academy to find out if this is the career for you.

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As an aircraft traffic controller you'll work in a team environment helping to coordinate the movement of airplanes including landings and departures. Since travelers fly at various days and times, controllers are typically needed to work varying schedules, including holidays. A decline in employment is projected through 2024, but the median salary is about $122,000.

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Essential Information

Air traffic controllers coordinate the movement of aircraft in the skies and at landing and departure for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). They may work in airport control towers, approach control centers or route facilities. Because air traffic is constant, controllers often must work nights, weekends and holidays, and the job can be stressful. Applicants need a bachelor's degree and/or work experience. They must pass pre-employment tests, then complete a rigorous training program at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City.

Required Education Bachelor's degree or three years work experience or a combination of college and work totaling three years. Complete FAA Training Academy program.*
Other Requirements Age 31 or younger, U.S. citizen, speak clear English. Must pass pre-employment aptitude tests, physical examination and background check*
Projected Job Growth 9% decrease 2014-2024**
Median Salary $122,950 (2015)**

Sources: *FAA, ** U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Job Duties of an Aircraft Traffic Controller

Aircraft traffic controllers work within the National Airspace System (NAS), a large network of people and machinery that are involved in the safe and efficient running of commercial, private and governmental aircraft. Several types of air traffic controllers work together for the safe and timely arrival of aircraft. A terminal controller is responsible for the efficient flow of aircraft both in and out of an airport, while a tower local controller is in charge of the landing and departures of all aircraft. Other positions vital to safe aviation include radar associate controllers, en route controllers and ground controllers.

Career Information

According to the BLS, the number of aircraft traffic controllers is expected to see a 9% decrease from 2014-2024. Since the FAA hired additional controllers in the past several years, increased air traffic won't cause more growth. Candidates without previous experience in aircraft traffic control must be no older than 30. Air traffic control is one of the most highly demanding jobs available, combining high levels of expertise and communication abilities, as well as requiring excellent spatial abilities.

The high stress job of being an air traffic controller requires organization, attention to detail and superb communication skills. Along with a bachelor's degree, training through the FAA is required, and controllers will need to pass a series of background checks, be U.S. citizens under 31 years old and speak clear English.

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