Start a Career as an Air Traffic Controller

An air traffic controller can help guide aircraft in the sky as well as on the ground. They use technology that enables them to see all air traffic in a given area. It is their duty to manage the traffic and ensure that each flight is safe to take off, land, or move.

An air traffic controller communicates with pilots, tells them when to take off and land, and alerts them to weather and ground problems at the airport. Air traffic controllers also guide the airport staff’s activities on the field. The safety of the airspace and landing areas are largely in an air traffic controller’s hands.


Air traffic controllers operate in control towers, access control centers, and monitoring centers. Their work can be difficult because there is always a need for total focus. Various types of air traffic controllers have their own sets of responsibilities and work in multiple settings. Those working in airport control towers may be responsible for directing the runway activity or ensuring that aircraft in the sky stay a safe distance from each other. Others operate between airports in air traffic control centers to track and direct traffic across their airspace.

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Here are some tips you need to do to become an air traffic controller. Photo credits:

Training to Become an Air Traffic Controller

Air traffic controllers are qualified at two levels. The first phase is typically completed by a program approved by the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). AT-CTI allows 36 schools across the country to deliver associate, bachelor, and master programs for prospective air traffic controllers.

If you want to enroll in an AT-CTI program, you should first ensure that you can meet the FAA’s air traffic controller employment standards. Air traffic controllers must be citizens of the United States and be younger than 31 when they are first employed. If you want to continue to become an air traffic controller, you need to pass a background check on criminal history and a medical examination that involves sight, color vision, hearing, mental health, substance abuse, cardiac, and neurological testing.


Education to Become an Air Traffic Controller

Associate AT-CTI degree programs typically focus primarily on air traffic control, but bachelor and master degree programs are widening their focus to aeronautics, aviation management, and aviation engineering. Associate degree students take classes on subjects such as weather in aviation, aviation policy, primary navigation and flight operations, air traffic control engineering, radar, and human factors.

These courses are taken by students in bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, but they also delve deeper into aviation science and branch into computer science, management, and research.

Average Salary of an Air Traffic Controller

According to Work Chron, air traffic controllers earned an average salary of $17,981 in 2014, but this amount depends on the city. Air traffic controllers in New York earned the second-highest entry-level salaries of $51,641.43, while those in Houston made $51,623.45. They made $30,855.39 in Columbus, Ohio, $30,531.73 in Buffalo, N.Y., and $26,396.10 in Indianapolis.


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Where to Apply as an Air Traffic Controller

Air traffic controllers that gain experience and additional training can earn ratings that enable them to work in more complex roles, busier control towers, and traffic control centers. The next generation of air traffic controllers can be trained by those with significant experience. The FAA employs all air traffic controllers, and all openings are posted on the website of USAJOBS. It is expected that potential controllers will complete their schooling, pre-training, and screening, and then wait to apply for an opening.

After your education and training, you can apply for jobs on these websites.

  • Aviation Job Search – This website helps with all types of flying careers.
  • Pilot Career Center – This website will help you search for jobs all over the world.
  • Flight Deck Friend – This website is a job searching site for all flying careers.


The primary concern of air traffic controllers is security, but they also need to guide aircraft to reduce delays efficiently. Being an air traffic controller means accepting a lot of responsibility. However, that is why the training is so essential and thorough.  For more careers in flying, click here.