Air Traffic Controllers: Salary, career path, job outlook, education and more

Education Required
Candidates who want to become air traffic controllers typically need an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree from an AT-CTI program. Other candidates must have 3 years of progressively responsible work experience, have completed 4 years of college, or have a combination of both.
Training Required
Most newly hired air traffic controllers are trained at the FAA Academy, located in Oklahoma City, OK. The length of training varies with the applicant’s background. Applicants must be hired by their 31st birthday.
Job Outlook
The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026: 3% (Slower than average)
(The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.)
Licenses/Certifications
All air traffic controllers must hold an Air Traffic Control Tower Operator Certificate or be appropriately qualified and supervised as stated in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 65. They must be at least 18 years old, fluent in English, and comply with all knowledge and skill requirements.
Median pay: How much do Air Traffic Controllers make?
$122,410 Annual Salary
$58.85 per hour

Air traffic controllers coordinate the movement of aircraft to maintain safe distances between them.

What do Air Traffic Controllers do?

Air traffic controllers typically do the following:

  • Monitor and direct the movement of aircraft on the ground and in the air
  • Control all ground traffic at airport runways and taxiways
  • Issue landing and takeoff instructions to pilots
  • Transfer control of departing flights to other traffic control centers and accept control of arriving flights
  • Inform pilots about weather, runway closures, and other critical information
  • Alert airport response staff in the event of an aircraft emergency

Air traffic controllers’ primary concern is safety, but they also must direct aircraft efficiently to minimize delays. They manage the flow of aircraft into and out of the airport airspace, guide pilots during takeoff and landing, and monitor aircraft as they travel through the skies. Air traffic controllers use radar, computers, or visual references to monitor and direct the movement of the aircraft in the skies and ground traffic at airports.

Controllers usually manage multiple aircraft at the same time and must make quick decisions to ensure the safety of aircraft. For example, a controller might direct one aircraft on its landing approach while providing another aircraft with weather information.

The following are examples of types of air traffic controllers:

Careers for Air Traffic Controllers

  • Air traffic control operators
  • Air traffic control specialists
  • Air traffic coordinators
  • Airport tower controllers
  • Approach and departure controllers
  • Approach controllers
  • Control tower operators
  • Controllers, air traffic
  • Departure controllers
  • En route controllers
  • En route controllers, air traffic
  • Terminal controllers, air traffic
  • Tower controllers
  • Tower controllers, air traffic

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