Flight controllers, also known as air traffic controllers, direct air traffic. While there are other routes to becoming an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), many individuals receive fundamental training through an associate's degree program in air traffic control. Individuals who aspire to management jobs in air traffic control may wish to pursue a bachelor's degree.
Graduates can take the Air Traffic Standardized Aptitude Test (AT-SAT), an 8-hour test that covers many subjects. Those who pass can enroll in the FAA Academy, which provides intensive training for up to five months and is required for employment as a controller.
Associate's degree programs typically require students to have a high school diploma or GED, medical clearance, high assessment test scores, and an aptitude for mathematics in order to enroll. Bachelor's degree programs may also ask for ACT scores and letters of recommendation.
Associate of Applied Science Degree (AAS) in Air Traffic Control
The AAS in Air Traffic Control program can be a first step toward air traffic controller training. The FAA employs the majority of air traffic controllers and sets training and education requirements (www.faa.gov). The associate's degree program educates students in the use of control tower radar and instrumentation, flight regulations, and fundamentals of aviation. Students spend significant training time in simulated air traffic control towers. Some programs provide flight training and study for a private pilot certificate, though it isn't required for air traffic controller employment.
Students interested in becoming air traffic controllers may consider FAA-certified Air Traffic-Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) programs that prepare students for admission to the FAA Academy, which is the final step before becoming an FAA air traffic controller.
The FAA generally only hires candidates under age 31 to be air traffic controllers. Applicants should consider whether they would be able to meet this age requirement after completing the program and performing a subsequent employment search. The curriculum typically includes general education classes, such as college math and composition, as well as coursework similar to the following:
- Flight theory
- Computers and navigational equipment in aviation
- Air traffic control for private and professional pilots
- Aviation security
- Math for aviation
Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Air Traffic Control
The bachelor's degree in air traffic control program combines business principles and management with extensive education in air traffic control. The programs offer training on tower simulators and radar equipment, as well as a focus on aviation and aeronautics. Because of the opportunity to acquire business skills and deep expertise in the field, students who hope to advance to supervisory roles in air traffic control may benefit from a B.S. program with a professional flight concentration. Some programs cover additional sciences relevant to the field, such as electricity and pneumatics. Coursework for the major may include:
- Aeronautics and flight dynamics
- Airport management principles
- Aviation law
- Aircraft propulsion and avionics
- Psychology and human factors in aviation
Popular Career Options
B.S. program graduates are well prepared for careers as air traffic controllers. They may also qualify for positions such as the following:
- Air traffic control manager
- Private pilots
- Air traffic control specialist for the military or private company
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects air traffic controller employment to show a 1% increase from 2019-2029 (www.bls.gov). The BLS indicated that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has already hired several new controllers in recent years, and that job opportunities are only expected to arise from workers who retire or leave the profession, rather than from the creation of new positions. The BLS reported that the median annual wage for air traffic controllers was $130,420 as of May 2020.
Continuing Education Information
Graduates of AT-CTI programs automatically qualify to take the FAA's 8-hour pre-employment exam. If candidates pass the exam and are then selected for employment by the FAA, they enter the FAA Academy training program in Oklahoma City. If they pass the academy, they are assigned to work as entry-level air traffic controllers.
Graduates who earn a B.S. in Air Traffic Control and intend to work for the FAA must also take the qualifying exam. Those interested in furthering their education may pursue a graduate degree in a related field, such as a master's degree in aeronautics.
Associate's and bachelor's degrees are available to prepare students for work in air traffic control, either as flight controllers or managers. Graduates are qualified to take a pre-employment exam, which prepares them for FAA Academy training, or pursue master's degrees to further their education and improve their employability.