Become a Federal Air Marshal: Education and Career Roadmap

Mar 05, 2020

Learn how to become a federal air marshal. Explore the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as a federal air marshal.

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Federal Air Marshals

Federal air marshals (FAMs) are highly trained individuals devoted to detecting, deterring and defeating hostile or criminal acts aboard U.S. commercial aircraft. They also perform investigations, interview suspects and witnesses, and participate in multi-agency task forces to proactively fight terrorism.

Like all law enforcement officials, federal air marshals might be subject to bodily harm while dealing with dangerous situations or individuals. All federal law enforcement officers may need to travel to deal with different security situations, which enables them to see many parts of the country. Additionally, federal air marshals have the satisfaction of knowing their quiet presence promotes public confidence in U.S. aviation safety.

Degree Level Bachelor's degree recommended
Degree Field Any field is acceptable
Experience 3 years in lieu of bachelor's degree or combination of education and experience
Key Skills Integrity, acute observation and assessment, ability to work without backup, firearms proficiency, problem solving, situational awareness
Additional Requirements High degree of physical fitness, Top Secret security clearance
Median Salary (2020) $62,400

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Military Times; USA Jobs, *

Next we'll take a look at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requirements for federal air marshals.

Step 1: TSA Requirements

Federal air marshals must meet stringent background, experience, physical fitness, and training requirements before being hired by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The TSA only accepts applications from U.S. citizens between 21 and 36 years of age. The application process requires a drug test and a criminal and credit background check to ensure that applicants have no disqualifying financial delinquencies or criminal convictions. Applicants also undergo mental health and physical fitness evaluations, a panel interview, and an evaluation by a supervisory air marshal. Aspiring air marshals must also qualify for top-secret security clearance.

Step 2: College Degree

While a bachelor's degree is not a requirement for federal air marshals, competition for jobs is intense, and graduates of 4-year college programs may have a competitive edge; and, while aspiring air marshals can choose any field of study, one that develops leadership and analytical skills can help them acquire the skills required by the position.

Step 3: Work Experience

Prospective federal air marshals without a bachelor's degree may qualify for a position with 3 years of relevant experience or a combination of education and experience. The Federal Air Marshal Service will accept experience that demonstrates the minimum required ability to gather data, analyze problems, arrive at solutions, and develop good spoken and written communication skills. Candidates can build their resumes by applying for internships, filling entry-level positions, or joining a local law-enforcement agency or the military, which may help them acquire physical fitness and marksmanship skills. Military veterans who meet all TSA requirements will receive a hiring preference.

Step 4: Air Marshal Training

Federal air marshals who successfully complete and pass the application process attend an extensive training program over the course of 16 weeks. The first stage of training occurs at the Federal Training Center in Artesia, NM, and consists of basic physical fitness, marksmanship drills and classroom instruction. During the second stage of training at the Federal Air Marshal Service Training Center in Atlantic City, NJ, candidates undergo advanced weapon training. They also receive instruction in defensive techniques, international law, and aircraft safety protocols.

Success Tip

  • Get physically fit. Because the physical training requirements for federal air marshals are so stringent, candidates should be in top physical condition when they arrive for training.

Step 5: Senior Status

Federal air marshals are paid on a ranked scale, with the most senior marshals receiving the highest pay grade. Additionally, experienced marshals can move into supervisory positions within the Federal Air Marshal Service.

Let's review. Federal air marshals with a bachelor's degree or equivalent work experience must undergo a strict application process and complete 16 weeks of specialized training. According to, the annual median salary for air marshal is $62,400.

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