Career Development

What Does an Air Traffic Controller Do?

Find out what an air traffic controller does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as an air traffic controller.

Air traffic controllers are responsible for ensuring the safety of aircraft in the skies. They monitor all air traffic in their area and ensure that planes don’t collide or otherwise endanger each other while in flight. Air traffic controllers also provide instructions to pilots on how to best navigate through the airspace they oversee.

Air Traffic Controller Job Duties

Air traffic controllers have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Maintaining a close watch on aircraft position and status information provided by other facilities to ensure that planes do not collide or come too close together
  • Monitoring communications between pilots, flight controllers, and other parties to ensure that the correct information is being transmitted at all times
  • Serving as the primary point of contact for pilots during flights, answering questions about weather conditions, airport facilities, etc.
  • Tracking aircraft movements through radar or computerized systems to determine their location and identify possible hazards or conflicts with other aircraft
  • Maintaining records of all communications between pilots, control towers, and other parties involved in aviation activities
  • Coordinating with other facilities to track planes en route to ensure that they are on schedule
  • Setting up routes for planes based on their destination or other criteria specified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
  • Using computer software to monitor and direct air traffic based on established guidelines
  • Determining which runway a plane should take off from or land on based on weather conditions, wind direction, and other factors

Air Traffic Controller Salary & Outlook

Air traffic controllers’ salaries vary depending on their level of education and experience, the company size and geographic location.

  • Median Annual Salary: $81,500 ($39.18/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $122,000 ($58.65/hour)

The employment of air traffic controllers is expected to grow slower than average over the next decade.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) projects a need for more air traffic controllers over the next decade as the demand for air travel increases. However, the large number of air traffic controllers currently in their prime working years is expected to limit the need for new workers.

Air Traffic Controller Job Requirements

Air traffic controllers typically need to have the following qualifications:

Education: Air traffic controllers need at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Many employers prefer candidates who have a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical science, aviation or another closely related field.

Training & Experience: Air traffic controllers must complete a training program that teaches them the skills and knowledge they need to work in the field. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires air traffic controllers to complete a training program that lasts between six and 18 months. The training program includes classroom instruction and on-the-job training.

Certifications & Licenses: Air traffic controllers must pass a rigorous exam to earn their credential. While agencies may accept certifications in place of the credentialing exam, most agencies require the credential instead of, not in addition to, the certification.

Air Traffic Controller Skills

Air traffic controllers need the following skills in order to be successful:

Communication skills: A large part of an air traffic controller’s job is to communicate with others. They must be able to clearly convey messages to pilots, other air traffic controllers and other staff members. They must also be able to listen to and interpret messages from others.

Attention to detail: A job as an air traffic controller requires the ability to notice small details. Controllers must be able to identify and interpret information accurately, which requires the ability to notice small details. For example, controllers must be able to identify and interpret flight numbers, altitudes and speeds of aircraft to ensure safe flight operations.

Problem-solving skills: A controller’s job is to ensure the safe and efficient flow of aircraft. This means they must be able to identify and solve problems quickly and effectively. For example, if a plane is experiencing a delay, the controller may need to reroute other aircraft to ensure the safety of all involved.

Mathematical skills: A thorough understanding of mathematics is essential for air traffic controllers. They use mathematical formulas to calculate flight paths, determine the speed of aircraft and identify potential safety hazards. They also use mathematical formulas to determine the most efficient use of airport resources, such as fuel and staff.

Leadership skills: Air traffic controllers often work in teams, so leadership skills can be very beneficial for them. They may also be in charge of training new air traffic controllers, so leadership skills can help them with this task as well.

Air Traffic Controller Work Environment

Air traffic controllers work in control towers at airports or in air route traffic control centers, where they direct the movement of aircraft to maintain safe distances between them. They work in well-lit, temperature-controlled rooms and use radar, computers, and other equipment to monitor and direct the movement of aircraft. Air traffic controllers typically work a 40-hour week, but they may work overtime, weekends, and holidays, and they are on call 24 hours a day. The job can be stressful because controllers must make quick decisions that could affect the safety of hundreds of people.

Air Traffic Controller Trends

Here are three trends influencing how Air Traffic Controllers work. Air Traffic Controllers will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Need for More Diversity in the Workforce

The air traffic controller industry is facing a major diversity problem. According to a recent study, only 2% of air traffic controllers are black, and only 3% are Hispanic. This lack of diversity can have serious consequences for the safety of the skies, as it means that there are not enough people in the workforce who understand the cultural differences between different groups of people.

Air traffic controllers can help solve this problem by becoming more involved in recruiting efforts and by encouraging students from underrepresented backgrounds to consider a career in aviation. In addition, they can work to create a more inclusive workplace where everyone feels comfortable being themselves.

The Use of Technology to Improve Efficiency

As technology advances, businesses are looking for ways to improve efficiency. Air traffic controllers are no exception, as they are increasingly turning to technology to help them manage their workloads.

One example of this trend is the use of software that allows controllers to track flights and communicate with pilots through computers rather than radio communication. This allows controllers to work more efficiently and safely, while also reducing the amount of time that pilots spend waiting to be contacted.

A Greater Focus on Safety

As air travel becomes more popular, airlines and airports are placing a greater focus on safety. This is leading to an increased demand for air traffic controllers, who are responsible for ensuring that planes stay safe and on course during their flights.

Air traffic controllers can capitalize on this trend by becoming certified in new technologies and procedures. This will allow them to stay ahead of the curve and ensure that they are always prepared to handle any situation that may arise.

How to Become an Air Traffic Controller

A career as an air traffic controller can be both rewarding and challenging. It’s important to consider all the factors that will influence your success in this field, including your personality type, physical fitness level, and technical skills.

If you have a knack for problem-solving and are able to stay calm under pressure, then an air traffic control career may be right for you. Additionally, if you enjoy working with people and have excellent communication skills, then this is also a great career choice.

Advancement Prospects

Air traffic controllers typically start out working at small airports handling a limited number of flights. As they gain experience, they move to larger airports with more complex traffic patterns. The most experienced controllers may work at air traffic control centers, where they coordinate the movements of aircraft in a large region of airspace.

With additional training, air traffic controllers may qualify for supervisory or managerial positions. Some controllers may become instructors, working to train new controllers. Others may move into research or consulting.

Air Traffic Controller Job Description Example

The [AirportX] is a high-traffic, high-pressure environment, and we are looking for an experienced air traffic controller to help maintain a safe and efficient operation. The ideal candidate will have a strong working knowledge of air traffic control procedures and regulations, as well as excellent communication and coordination skills. He or she will be responsible for directing the movement of aircraft in and out of the airport, as well as providing information and assistance to pilots. In this role, you will play a critical part in ensuring the safe and efficient operation of the airport.

Duties & Responsibilities

  • Ensure the safe, orderly, and expeditious flow of air traffic in the assigned area of responsibility
  • Apply knowledge of weather, aircraft performance capabilities, airspace, and other factors to separate aircraft and maintain a safe environment
  • Authorize and monitor communications between pilots and ground personnel
  • Coordinate with adjacent controllers to ensure seamless transfer of control of arriving and departing aircraft
  • Monitor radar displays and make decisions quickly and accurately based on constantly changing conditions
  • Communicate effectively with co-workers, supervisors, and pilots while remaining calm under pressure
  • Maintain a high level of concentration for long periods of time
  • Work rotating shifts, including nights, weekends, and holidays
  • Be available to work overtime on short notice
  • Undergo regular medical and psychological evaluations
  • Complete initial and ongoing training requirements
  • Adhere to all safety regulations

Required Skills and Qualifications

  • U.S. citizenship
  • Excellent vision (uncorrected 20/20 vision in each eye) and hearing
  • 3 years of progressively responsible work experience, or a Bachelor’s degree, or a combination of post-secondary education and work experience totaling 3 years
  • Ability to pass a background check and drug test
  • Ability to obtain an air traffic control license from the FAA
  • Flexibility to work any shift, including nights, weekends, and holidays

Preferred Skills and Qualifications

  • Previous air traffic control experience
  • Bilingual abilities
  • Experience working in a high-stress environment
  • Strong multitasking skills

Similar Jobs


What Does a Web Developer Do?

Back to Career Development

What Does a Business Manager Do?