Air traffic controllers ensure that planes maintain a safe distance from one another while on the ground and in the air. Students who complete a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved degree program take core classes along with general education courses. Programs will cover topics such as aviation technology, FAA regulations, meteorology and air traffic safety. While enrolled in this program, also known as a Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) program, students take a pre-employment aptitude test, typically during their final semester. Students have two chances to pass, and the score is used by employers when hiring new air traffic controllers.
Graduating from one of these programs does not guarantee employment as an air traffic controller. In addition to having a favorable pre-employment test score, graduates must successfully complete an intense training program at the FAA Training Academy after receiving a job offer in order to begin employment. In order to apply, prospective students must have a high school diploma or the equivalent, possibly with a minimum high school GPA. Applicants must also submit SAT or ACT scores.
Associate Degree in Air Traffic Control
Two-year associate degree programs in air traffic control introduce students to the regulation of air traffic, which involves helping planes maintain a safe distance from each other. They learn about the different policies of the federal government, as well as natural influences that disrupt air traffic. They also take classes that introduce the basics of aviation. Coursework may include:
- Aviation technology
- Aviation regulations
- Air traffic control procedures
- Aviation meteorology
- Airport management
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Bachelor's Degree in Air Traffic Control
A 4-year degree in air traffic control is designed for students who want to be FAA air traffic controllers. These air traffic controllers oversee the entire U.S. air traffic control system and look out for situations that could create congestion in airspace.
This degree program includes many of the same courses as the associate degree program, with the addition of general education classes. Courses that may be required at the bachelor's level are:
- Aviation fundamentals
- Aviation rules
- Aviation meteorology
- Air traffic control systems
- Transportation safety
Popular Career Options
Those seeking employment after pursuing a degree in air traffic control are required to comply with the FAA employment requirements. These requirements include an air traffic control specialist medical examination and an age restriction of 31 years for those seeking employment as terminal or en-route air traffic controllers.
Upon completing an undergraduate degree program in air traffic control, meeting all employment requirements and finishing all training required by the FAA, graduates are able to work as air traffic controllers in most airports in the United States. Different opportunities in air traffic control include:
- Terminal controller
- Tower local controller
- Terminal radar controller
- Tower flight data controller
- Ground controller
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for air traffic controllers are expected to decline 9% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that the median annual salary for air traffic controllers was $122,950 in 2015.
Continuing Education Information
After completing a CTI education program and receiving a job offer, students attend the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for additional training for their specific position.
Both FAA-approved associate and bachelor's degree programs, also known as Collegiate Training Initiative programs, in air traffic control provide career training for aspiring aviation workers. However, receiving an undergraduate degree is just one step to beginning this career, as additional training is required through the FAA Academy as well.