Air Traffic Controller: Salary, Duties and Requirements

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 education, job duties and certification to find out if this career is right for you.

Post-secondary training and practical experience are required to enter the field as an air traffic controller. Air traffic controllers must also be U.S. citizens per Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines. This job market is in decline, and those interested in a career as an air traffic controller can expect significant competition for available jobs.

Essential Information

An air traffic controller directs and monitors aircraft, maintains safety, and informs pilots about weather conditions and flight paths. Some controllers direct aircraft through airspace, while other controllers regulate arrivals and departures. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employs most air traffic controllers and usually requires them to complete training at the FAA academy.

Required Education Combination of 2-4 years of post-secondary education and experience
Other Requirements Pass Air Traffic Standardized Aptitude Test (AT-SAT); complete 2-5 months training at FAA Academy
Certification Must obtain Air Traffic Control Tower Operator Certificate to work independently
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* -9%
Average Salary (2015)* $122,950

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salary of an Air Traffic Controller

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary of an air traffic controller in May 2015 was $122,950. The average annual salary of an air traffic controller employed by the federal government was $122,310 in the same year ( The BLS states that in 2015, the federal government employed 20,370 of the country's 23,130 air traffic controllers. Employment of air traffic controllers is expected to decrease by 9% between 2014 and 2024, according to the BLS, and job competition is expected to be high.

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Duties of an Air Traffic Controller

Air traffic controllers regulate air traffic either within an airport's airspace or air traffic between airports. They communicate weather changes, visibility issues, wind conditions and nearby aircraft to pilots, using radar, computers or visuals to monitor aircraft in the assigned airspace. Air traffic controllers may give landing and departure authorization and instructions. They may also determine and direct flight path changes as necessary. Controllers supervise ground traffic, such as baggage vehicles, airport workers and taxiing airplanes.

Requirements of an Air Traffic Controller

Most air traffic controllers are employed through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Controllers employed by the FAA must be U.S. citizens and pass a background investigation and medical examination.

There are three ways to become an air traffic controller with the FAA. The first option is to gain military experience as an air traffic controller. The second is to complete an aviation degree at a college or university through the FAA's Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative program. The final option is to complete either three years of progressively responsible job experience, a bachelor's degree or a combination of the two. Those who fulfill the requirements of either of the latter two options will also be required to attend the FAA's Air Traffic Control Academy, which takes several weeks or months to complete. Students in this program are reimbursed for living costs.

Air traffic controllers work shift work and their job requires total concentration at all times. This is a high-stress field that is currently experiencing job decline, and those planning to become air traffic controllers will face a lot of competition for available jobs.

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