Each day, thousands of planes land and take off from various airports in the US. Air traffic controllers are the professionals tasked with maintaining a safe and orderly flow of air traffic. If you are determined to pursue a rewarding and exciting job in the aviation industry without taking to the skies, this could be it.
1. What Do Air Traffic Controllers Do?
Their duties include:
- Issuing landing and takeoff instructions to pilots
- Instructing pilots to climb, descend or maintain a certain altitude level
- Providing weather updates and other pieces of essential information to pilots before and during flight
- Maintaining radar or radio contact with aircraft in national airspace
- Keeping a close eye on the radar screens to ensure airplanes are safe distances apart
- Alerting airport emergency response staff during emergencies
- Controlling ground traffic.
2. Work Environment
Air transport is a 24-hour industry, so air traffic controllers usually work on a shift basis. They are based in control towers, which are found in or near airports. These controllers spend most of their time seated and their eyes trained on radar screens.
The job has an element of mental stress, since air traffic controllers are responsible for the safety of several passengers. When flights in their radar go missing or crash, some controllers find it hard to cope.
How about six figures for a salary? Well, air traffic controllers earn an average annual salary of $118,780, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
4. Entry Requirements
To be an air traffic controller in the US, you must meet the following requirements:
- Be an American citizen
- Be below 31 years old
- Pass a series of medical examinations
- Pass a security background check
- Have a bachelor’s degree in any subject (but preferably Air Traffic Control), or a combination of postsecondary training and professional work experience
- Pass the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pre-employment exams.
Once you have met these requirements, you will undergo training at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma. Training takes place in classrooms and air traffic control simulators. After completing training which lasts between two to five months, you will begin as a developmental controller – a position that involves supplying pilots with basic flight information before takeoff. After some time (depending on your competence), you will be certified as an air traffic controller.
5. Important Qualities
To be a competent air traffic controller, you need:
- Superior verbal communication skills
- A decent mastery of the English language
- The ability to concentrate for long periods of time
- Emotional stamina to cope with disasters
- Interpersonal skills
- Strong decision-making skills
- Analytical and problem-solving skills
- Computer skills
- Math skills
- Organizational skills
- An understanding of federal aviation regulations.
6. Career Development
What next in your career as an air traffic controller? Firstly, it is essential to note that air traffic controllers in the US are required by law to retire at 56, and many of them call it a day having worked as controllers throughout their entire careers.
If you want to move a step ahead, take additional courses in air traffic management. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association also offers membership opportunities, which you should grab to network with other air traffic control specialists.
7. Job Opportunities
The employers of air traffic controllers include:
- FAA (major employer)
- The military
- Private companies offering air traffic management services.
As an experienced air traffic controller with credentials in air traffic management, you can advance to become an air traffic controller supervisor.
See Also: How to Become an Airline Pilot
Finally, the FAA plans to hire more than 10,000 controllers within the next decade, meaning you should not be confident of getting a job once you acquire all the qualifications.
So, if you want to help flights take to the skies and touchdown safely, then this could be the right job for you.