Earning a bachelor's degree in a major related to aviation is often the first step to becoming an air traffic controller. Training through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) follows, providing information on regulations and traffic control technology. The new controller cannot be fully certified until he or she completes a probationary period.
Air traffic management programs generally train students to become air traffic controllers. Air traffic controllers work for the government, military and private airports. Air traffic management courses are offered at the undergraduate level, and new air traffic controllers complete a basic training program with the FAA.
|Career||Air Traffic Controller|
|Required Education||FAA approved undergraduate degree|
|Other Requirements||FAA training, U.S. citizen, under 30 years old, pass medical and background checks|
|Projected Job Growth*||1% decrease between 2018 and 2028|
|Median Salary (2018)*||$124,540|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Individuals without previous air traffic control experience can get started in the field by enrolling in a degree program related to aviation. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides a training initiative in conjunction with several U.S. universities. These schools offer 2- and 4-year degree programs in engineering topics related to aviation. Program graduates are eligible to apply for air traffic control positions with the FAA.
Someone could pursue an air traffic control position without earning an FAA-endorsed degree; however, specific education and work experience might be necessary. All applicants must be English-speaking U.S. citizens who are 30 years of age or younger.
FAA-approved degree programs offer courses in communications, computer science, mathematics and meteorology. Students also learn about flight safety, radar operations and general flight regulations. Tower simulation programs train students in authentic air traffic control situations. Upon graduation, students need a school recommendation in order to apply for air traffic control positions. Once under consideration for a job, applicants must achieve a minimum score on a standardized pre-employment exam.
FAA Training Academy
Individuals selected for air traffic control positions with the FAA attend a 12-week basic training program. The academy provides specialized training in topics involving FAA regulations and technical equipment. Trainees also complete courses pertaining to their particular air traffic control position. Air traffic controllers who have not attended an FAA-approved school will need to complete the entire course. However, graduates of a school that is a member of the initiative might be able to forgo the first five weeks of basic training.
Training on the Job
Those who complete the training at the FAA Academy can work at an air traffic control facility on a probationary basis as developmental controllers until they achieve full certification. Trainees begin their employment with further training in facility regulations and procedures. They work under the supervision of experienced controllers while they work toward certification in various positions and tasks. Only a fully-certified controller can direct air traffic without supervision.
In addition to air traffic controller positions, other possible air traffic careers include terminal controllers, tower flight coordinators and ground controllers. Each of these positions require similar education and training as a controller. While terminal controllers focus their attention on aircraft traveling in and out of a terminal's airspace, a tower flight coordinator assists pilots with the flight plan. Ground controllers manage the movement of an aircraft before it hits the runway and after it lands.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that controllers without previous air traffic experience might need 2-4 years to become fully certified (www.bls.gov). Training time can depend on staff availability and access to technical training tools, such as simulators. Developmental controllers must complete a minimum number of hours in a particular position to become certified; however, the FAA also sets a maximum training period where trainees must master a particular operation to progress into further training.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
In May 2018, the BLS reported that workers in the 90th percentile or higher earned $178,650 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $178,650 or less per year. Employment in this field is expected to have a minimal or no change from 2018-2028, per the BLS.
Training in air traffic management takes several years to complete, including three months of intensive instruction at the FAA Academy. In addition to air traffic controller, career options include tower flight coordinator or terminal controller. According to BLS, about 24,300 workers were employed in 2018, whereas employment of nearly 24,600 is anticipated for 2028.