If you are an aviation enthusiast searching for a career in the aviation industry, an air traffic controller could be one of the best choices.
Air Traffic Controller (ATC) is the most crucial and respected position in the aviation world. The key role of an ATC officer is to manage air traffic in a systematic way so that every flight operation is safe.
To become an ATC officer, you need to fulfil basic requirements, go through intensive ATC training and pass all the examinations to obtain ATC Certification. Requirements, training methodologies and examinations differ from country to country.
So, how to become Air Traffic Controller in the United States? What is the salary of an Air Traffic Controller? Let’s find it now in this article.
What do Air Traffic Controllers do?
The job of an Air Traffic Controller (ATC) is to manage air traffic and enhance safe flight operations. The ATC officer has to show robustness during duty hours because traffic management is a complex task.
Handling the flow of aircraft in and out of the airport, instructing pilots during takeoff and landing and monitoring aircraft as they fly through the skies are the key duties of an ATC officer.
Here are the major responsibilities of an Air Traffic Controller
- Direct aircraft on the ground and air to ensure safety.
- Keep aircraft a safe distance apart to prevent a collision.
- Advise Pilots on landing and alert them to potential dangers ahead.
- Provide Landing and Takeoff Instructions to Flight Crews.
- Use technologies like Radar Equipment and Flight Tracking to monitor and direct the movement of aircraft.
- Handle the traffic as per the holding capacity of the airport.
- Communicate with Pilots, Ground Staff and other key personnel.
- Provide weather conditions to the pilots.
- Inform pilots about airport conditions.
- Manage air traffic efficiently to mitigate flight delays.
- Alert the airport rescue team in the event of an aircraft emergency.
- Monitor aircraft once they depart an airport’s airspace.
How to become Air Traffic Controller in the United States?
You can become an Air Traffic Controller in the USA in two ways. One is to apply as a fresher for FAA Air Traffic Basics Course and the other is to choose Air Traffic – Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) Program.
Let’s explore both ways to become a successful ATC.
Apply for ATC Training offered by FAA Academy
FAA (the aviation regulatory body of the US) offers opportunities for eligible U.S. citizens to apply for ATC training. This offer is available every year and the applicants who meet the basic requirements mentioned below can apply to become Air Traffic Control (ATC) specialists.
If you meet the Federal Aviation Administration requirements, you can apply and go through qualifying tests and FAA ATC Training Program.
You need to go through the following steps to become a successful ATC Specialist.
Step 1: Meet FAA Requirements
You need to have good management skills, English language proficiency, problem-solving skills, and the ability to work quickly, accurately, calmly, and decisively under pressure to become an air traffic controller.
You need to fulfil all the following basic requirements specified by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).
The applicant must be a United States citizen.
- Must have at least three years of progressively responsible work experience or a Bachelor’s degree, or a combination of post-secondary education and work experience that totals three years.
- The minimum age requirement is 30 or below 30 (on the closing date of the application period)
- Must be able to pass a medication examination as per FAA standards.
- Must be able to pass a security investigation.
- Must be able to pass the FAA Air Traffic Pre-Employment Test.
- Applicants must be fluent in the English Language (Both Speaking and Writing).
- Applicants must be willing to relocate to an FAA facility based on agency staffing needs.
Step 2: Pass FAA Examination
Selected candidates will go through a medical examination, a security investigation and FAA Air Traffic Pre-employment tests. They must pass all these examinations to proceed further.
Step 3: Complete Air Traffic Course conducted by FAA Academy
Those candidates passing the FAA Examination are selected for the Air Traffic training courses which are conducted at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City. The training is conducted for a maximum period of 5 months.
Step 4: Gain On-the-job Experience
After successfully completing the ATC training from FAA Academy, entry-level applicants are assigned on-the-job roles in various airports across the country. With that, they gain on-the-job experience to become certified and professional Air Traffic Controllers.
Step 5: Receive ATC Certification from FAA
Obtaining a certification is the most important part of your ATC Career journey. As you complete on-the-job experience and perform well, you will be eligible to apply for the ATC Certification. For that, you need to pass a knowledge test and a practical exam.
Now, let’s explore the second option to become ATC in the United States.
Become ATC via Air Traffic – Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) Program
You can also become a successful ATC officer through the Air Traffic – Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) Program. FAA Approved AT-CTI schools offer two-year and four-year non-engineering aviation degrees that specialize in air traffic control and aviation administration.
This program is specially introduced to provide Air Traffic Control Specialist positions to qualified applicants.
AT-CTI is a non-funded partnership between FAA and selected schools that offer ATC specialized courses to meet the FAA’s need for ATC specialists. Those applicants graduating from AT-CTI-approved schools are eligible to bypass the 5 weeks of the Air Traffic Basics Course conducted at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City
The list of FAA Approved AT-CTI colleges and universities which are actively offering ATC programs is illustrated in the table below.
|FAA APPROVED AT-CTI College/University||LOCATION|
|Aims Community College||Greeley, Colorado|
|Arizona State University||Mesa, Arizona|
|Broward College||Pembroke Pines, Florida|
|Community College of Baltimore County||Baltimore, Maryland|
|Community College of Beaver County||Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania|
|Embry Riddle Aeronautical University – Dayton||Daytona Beach, Florida|
|Embry Riddle Aeronautical University – Prescott||Prescott, Arizona|
|Florida Institute of Technology Melbourne||Florida|
|Florida State College at Jacksonville||Jacksonville, Florida|
|Green River College||Auburn, Washington|
|Hampton University||Hampton, Virginia|
|Hesston College||Hesston, Kansas|
|Inter-American University of Puerto Rico||Bayamon, Puerto Rico|
|Jacksonville University||Jacksonville, Florida|
|Kent State University||Kent, Ohio|
|Lewis University||Romeoville, Illinois|
|Metropolitan State University of Denver||Denver, Colorado|
|Miami Dade College||Homestead, Florida|
|Middle Georgia State University||Cochran, Georgia|
|Mount San Antonio College||Walnut, California|
|Purdue University||West Lafayette, Indiana|
|Sacramento City College||Sacramento, California|
After graduating from any of the AT-CTI colleges or universities listed above, students are required to complete all training at the FAA Academy to obtain certification and continue employment.
Salary of Air Traffic Controller
The salary of Air Traffic Controllers depends on their position and level of experience. As per FAA the average annual salary for Air Traffic Control Specialists in the United States is $138,556 (based on the 2021 report).
This pay scale increases once the entry-level ATC specialists gain enough experience and complete a new training phase.
On the other hand, the annual salary of experienced and advanced ATC officers varies with the location, the complexity of the airport & airspace and various other decisive factors.
Benefits of becoming an Air Traffic Controller in the United States
As FAA employees, ATC specialists receive various benefits for themselves and their families. Some attractive benefits included in the package are listed below.
- Competitive Salaries and Performance-based incentives.
- Career Development with continuous opportunities to grow personally and professionally.
- FERS Retirement Pension Plan
- Life Insurance and Long-term Care Insurance
- Dental and Vision Benefits
- Flexible Spending Accounts
- Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB)
- Paid Time Off and Sick Leave
- Worklife Balance
- Transportation Subsidies
- On-site Healthcare Seminars and much more.
Working hours of Air Traffic Controllers
The majority of Air Traffic Control Specialists work full time and some work extra hours depending on various situations.
Smaller airports don’t require full-hour operation so, ATC officers have dawn to dusk operating hours. On the other hand, larger airports operating for 24 hours a day require air traffic control facilities to operate continuously due to which ATCs are required to rotate among the day, evening, and night shifts, along with weekends and holidays.
How to become an Air Traffic Controller without a degree?
Air Traffic Controller is one of the most essential and delicate positions in the aviation industry that requires ultimate proficiency. There are almost zero margins for error so, becoming an ATC specialist is a major challenge.
Having said that, those candidates who are aspiring to become an Air Traffic Controller must hold a quality educational degree. The chances of being selected for the position are high if you have a Bachelor’s degree or a degree through the AT-CTI program which we discussed above.
But, is there a chance for those without a degree? If you are wondering how to become an Air Traffic Controller without a degree, you can apply for the ATC program if you hold at least three years of progressively responsible work experience or have a combination of post-secondary education and work experience that equals three years.
You need to fulfil all other FAA requirements and pass the selection exams to get selected for the ATC training course at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City.
How long does it take to become an Air Traffic Controller?
The time required to become an Air Traffic Controller depends on your level and the job position. For instance, if you wish to become an ATC via AT-CTI program, it may take more than 4 years to become a certified and professional ATC.
On the other hand, if you go through the entry-level training at the FAA Academy, you will first spend 5 months for training and another 2-3 years for on-the-job training.
This is how you can become a successful Air Traffic Controller in the United States. If you fulfil all the requirements we discussed above, you can apply for the position whenever it is open and then make your dream come true.
ATC is the most delicate, respected and highly paid job in the aviation industry. In the case of being in dilemma, just listen to your inner heart and make fruitful decisions.
FAQs on How to become Air Traffic Controller
How much does an Air Traffic Controller Earn in the United States?
As per FAA the average annual salary for Air Traffic Control Specialists in the United States is $138,556 (based on the 2021 report). Salary can increase depending on the job position, location, complexity and experience level.
Is it hard to become an Air Traffic Controller?
Being an Air Traffic Controller is not an easy task because you need to meet FAA requirements, go through intensive training and pass all examinations to obtain certification. If you are really committed and enthusiastic, it won’t be that much difficult as you think.
Are Air Traffic Controllers in High Demand?
The global aviation industry is scaling but got disrupted due to the pandemic. ATC employment is expected to grow 4 per cent from 2020 to 2030 which is a little bit slower however, the demand will increase once air travel gains optimum momentum.
What qualifications do you need to become an Air Traffic Controller?
You need to hold an educational degree, have good management skills, English language proficiency, problem-solving skills, and the ability to work quickly, accurately, calmly, and decisively under pressure to become an air traffic controller.