How to Become an Air Traffic Controller?

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You have learned what an air controller is and what they do on a daily basis. You have read that the average air traffic controller can earn more than $100,000 and although you aren’t crazy about the stagnant job growth projected for the profession over the next decade or so, you think that you are up to the challenge and want to pursue this career. Great! So the next logical question is how does someone become an air traffic controller.

How To Become An Air Traffic Controller – 3 Options

In order to become an air traffic controller you must meet a couple of requirements. First and foremost, all prospective candidates must be citizens of the United States of America and meet a maximum age requirement of 31. This means that in nearly all circumstances, you must be under the age of 31 before you start your career as an air traffic controller.

Option 1: Previous Experience As An Air Traffic Controller

Veterans with military air traffic control experience, retired military controllers and current or prior civilian air traffic controllers possessing 52 consecutive weeks of air traffic control experience in an air traffic control facility and demonstrate the skills and knowledge needed to perform the job are eligible for hiring. Please note that there are additional criteria pertinent to each of the above types of experience that would need to be reviewed so please understand that this is just a basic explanation of the requirements.

Option 2: Enroll in an Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative Program (AT-CTI)

The Federal Aviation Administration has partnered with many colleges and universities across the nation to offer two and four-year non-engineering aviation degrees teaching the basic courses in air traffic control. The purpose of this program is to fill developmental air traffic control specialist positions with qualified applicants.

Individuals wishing to become an air traffic controller under this option must graduate from an FAA approved AT-CTI program and receive an official recommendation. Then they must pass a medical examination and security investigation in addition to passing the FAA pre-employment test with a score of 70 or better.

Option 3: No Prior Air Traffic Control Experience

It may surprise you to learn that individuals with no air traffic control experience or a completion of an air traffic control course or curriculum have options, too. The FAA invites the general public a few times each year to apply for air traffic control positions at various facilities located across the United States and her territories.

As previously stated, you must be a United States citizen and under the age of 31. Similar to Option 2, candidates must pass a medical examination and security investigation in addition to scoring 70 or higher on the FAA pre-employment test. There is also an interview component. The biggest difference in these options is that those without any experience are required to have three years of work experience with progressively more responsibility and/or a full four-year course of study leading to a bachelor’s degree (or some combination of the two).

Young Man’s Game

Repeating what was stated previously, those without previous experience must be younger than thirty one years old to become an air traffic controller. As you may already know or have read before, air traffic controllers must retire at the age of 56. The maximum age upon entry and maximum age at retirement requirements indicate the level of strain and stress this taxing occupation can place on individuals.

All controllers are required to pass a physical exam each year, as well as periodic drug screenings and a job performance exam that takes place twice a year. In addition, all controllers must exhibit the necessary qualities of air traffic controllers.

Controllers should have great communication skills. If they cannot respond to requests and speak clearly, as well as understand what it being told to them, they become useless on the field. This is part of the reason that air traffic controllers must be U.S citizens, to be certain that they properly understand the language, especially in the case of an emergency.

As well as being strong in communication, the controllers must be strong in concentration. Controllers must sometimes focus on multiple conversations and planes. When you consider various ratios used to measure efficiency and effectiveness in other professions (e.g. nurse to patient ratios in hospitals or student to teacher ratios in education) there are a relatively high number of planes to air traffic controllers at any one time. The ability to listen attentively, process information correctly and quickly, all while concentrating in an environment with lots of distractions is up utmost importance.

They should also have strong decision-making skills. In a dire situation, quick decisions must be made. If a change in altitude must take place, it is the job of the air traffic controller to be prepared to do so, even in bad weather. If they are not prepared for this, it will make for uncertain, wavering instructions that will not be of use in the case of an emergency.
Air traffic controllers must excellent problem solvers and possess a perceptiveness allowing them to anticipate events before they unfold. They will be faced with complex, unprepared-for situations in which they must decide the proper course of action. Often times, controllers are faced with events that have no specific mode of operation, or a written down explanation of how to handle them. In this case, it is vital that the controller have experience, confidence and the mental acuity to constructively analyze the events before them and find a solution.

Finally, employees must have developed multitasking skills. Not only must they coordinate the actions of multiple flights, but they must be prepared to take on more work while still guiding other pilots through weather, helping with landings, and more. Multitasking is key in a job that will directly affect the lives of others.

Character traits and abilities are incredibly important to any job. If you feel that your personality is a fit with the profile outlined above, you are ready to take the next step to beginning your life as an air traffic controller.

For more information about the air traffic controller career path, please visit the Air Traffic Controller Career Portal of Ditch College.

If you would like to read about other jobs that do not require a four year degree, please visit our career portal.

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