In 2010, air traffic controllers held about 27,000 jobs. The overwhelming majority (90 percent) of these workers are employed under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and members of a union. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) believes that the number of air traffic controllers needed to police our skies will shrink by three percent or 800 jobs by 2020. The two main factors that can be attributed to this decline are advances in technology allowing controllers to more efficiently track and order flights and federal budget cuts in aviation.
Tower and radar controllers work near large airports, while en route controllers work in office buildings all over the country. Radar controllers also work in semi dark rooms looking at planes that appear as moving blips on a screen, much as we see in the movies.
When times are busy, air traffic controllers are required to work rapidly and efficiently while continuing to hold concentration and communication. This stress can be physically exhausting. Therefore, most workers tend to retire before the national average age. Retirement is eligible for those who have worked for twenty years and have reached an age of 50. Similar to commercial pilots, when controllers reach the age of 56 they are forced to retire.
Though there is a projected decrease in the required number of air traffic controllers through 2020, it is important to understand that mandatory retirements at such a relatively young age create an ongoing demand for new controllers. In recent years however, the FAA hired a significant number of younger controllers and are therefore currently hiring fewer controllers than normal as a result of this hiring binge. In summation, since federal budget constraints and technological advances are capping the growth rate of jobs for air traffic controllers, the primary source of job openings will be the result of retirements.
The number of total workers, however, has increased since 2006. In that year, only about 25,000 traffic controllers were employed in total. At the time, the FAA had planned to hire and train almost 17,000 new air traffic controllers over a time span of 10 years. With the economic recession, those plans were never completed. Therefore, if the United States economy does bounce back sharply in the near future it is conceivable that these trends could be reversed and a new spate of hiring could begin.
Though job growth is stagnant, the turnover of this stressful occupation and annual retirements creates a ridiculously high demand for air traffic controllers. Due to more stringent academic standards and training required for controllers and an immense lack of training programs that are properly certified, competition for these educational and training slots is soaring. Needless to say, the draw of six-figure salaries is also attracting more and more applicants for few positions.
In the fiscal year of 2013, the budget cuts that have riveted air traffic controllers have been a devastating blow to those planning on beginning education. On the other hand, this should not be as discouraging for, while there are fewer workers now, the harder you work the farther you will continue to go. Air traffic controllers do not always require specific education training. If previous experience is acquired, your application will move through the line. Therefore, even through the budget cuts, it is possible to achieve your goal of becoming an air traffic controller.
The job outlook for air traffic controllers includes an early retirement program, and is known to be stressful and sometimes dark. But this is no reason to ignore the positives of the job. Those who become air traffic controllers receive payment benefits and a large annual salary far above the poverty line. This makes air traffic controlling an ideal job for many individuals.
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.