Career Detail


Air Traffic Controller
“We are in total control !”
Air traffic controllers coordinate the movement of air traffic to make certain that planes stay a safe distance apart.
Average Pay: $111,870    Qualifications:
The Job
Although airport tower controllers or terminal controllers watch over all planes traveling through the airport's airspace, their main responsibility is to organize the flow of aircraft into and out of the airport. Relying on radar and visual observation, they closely monitor each plane to ensure a safe distance between all aircraft and to guide pilots between the hangar or ramp and the end of the airport's airspace. In addition, controllers keep pilots informed about changes in weather conditions such as wind shear, a sudden change in the velocity or direction of the wind that can cause the pilot to lose control of the aircraft. During arrival or departure, several controllers direct each plane. As a plane approaches an airport, the pilot radios ahead to inform the terminal of the plane's presence. The controller in the radar room, just beneath the control tower, has a copy of the plane's flight plan and already has observed the plane on radar. If the path is clear, the controller directs the pilot to a runway; if the airport is busy, the plane is fitted into a traffic pattern with other aircraft waiting to land. As the plane nears the runway, the pilot is asked to contact the tower. There, another controller, who also is watching the plane on radar, monitors the aircraft the
Work Environment
Total concentration is required to keep track of several planes at the same time and to make certain that all pilots receive correct instructions. The mental stress of being responsible for the safety
College Majors
The FAA has partnerships with many colleges and universities. These schools offer two- and four-year non-engineering aviation degrees that teach basic courses in air traffic control.
Minimum Qualifications
To become an air traffic controller, a person must complete an FAA-approved education program; pass a pre-employment test; receive a school recommendation; meet the basic qualification requirements in accordance with Federal law; and achieve a qualifying score on the FAA-authorized pre-employment te
Personality traits helpful for this career
Confident, decisive, motivated, focused, organized.
Quick Facts
  • Air traffic controllers are eligible to retire at age 50 with 20 years of service as an active air traffic controller or after 25 years of active service at any age.
Compensation and Outlook
Median annual wages of air traffic controllers in May 2008 were $111,870. The middle 50 percent earned between $71,050 and $143,780. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,020, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $161,010. The average annual salary, excluding overtime earnings, for air traffic controllers in the Federal Government-which employs 90 percent of all controllers-was $109,218 in March 2009.
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