Aviation Careers

What skills or abilities do you need to become an air traffic controller?

User Avatar
Wiki User
2010-01-07 08:04:25


To become an air traffic controller, a person must enroll in an

FAA-approved education program and pass a pre-employment test that

measures his or her ability to learn the controller's duties.

Exceptions are air traffic controllers with prior experience and

military veterans.

The pre-employment test is currently offered only to students in

the FAA Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative Program or the

Minneapolis Community & Technical College, Air Traffic Control

Training Program. The test is administered by computer and takes

about 8 hours to complete. To take the test, an applicant must

apply under an open advertisement for air traffic control positions

and be chosen to take the examination. When there are many more

applicants than available positions, applicants are selected to

take the test through random selection.

In addition to the pre-employment test, applicants must have 3

years of full-time work experience, have completed a full 4 years

of college, or a combination of both. In combining education and

experience, 1 year of undergraduate study-30 semester or 45 quarter

hours-is equivalent to 9 months of work experience. Certain kinds

of aviation experience also may be substituted for these


Upon successful completion of an FAA-approved program,

individuals who receive school recommendation, meet the basic

qualification requirements (including being less than 31 years of

age) in accordance with Federal law, and achieve a qualifying score

on the FAA-authorized pre-employment test become eligible for

employment as an air traffic controller. Candidates also must pass

a medical exam, undergo drug screening, and obtain a security

clearance before they can be hired.

Upon selection, employees attend the FAA Academy in Oklahoma

City, OK, for 12 weeks of training, during which they learn the

fundamentals of the airway system, FAA regulations, controller

equipment, and aircraft performance characteristics, as well as

more specialized tasks.

After graduation, candidates assigned to an air traffic control

facility are classified as "developmental controllers" until they

complete all requirements to be certified for all of the air

traffic control positions within a defined area of a given

facility. Generally, it takes new controllers with only initial

controller training between 2 and 4 years, depending on the

facility and the availability of facility staff or contractors to

provide on-the-job training, to complete all the certification

requirements to become certified professional controllers.

Individuals who have had prior controller experience normally take

less time to become fully certified. Controllers who fail to

complete either the academy or the on-the-job portion of the

training usually are dismissed.

Controllers must also pass a physical examination each year and

a job performance examination twice each year. Failure to become

certified in any position at a facility within a specified time

also may result in dismissal. Controllers also are subject to drug

screening as a condition of continuing employment.

Air traffic controllers must be articulate to give pilots

directions quickly and clearly. Intelligence and a good memory also

are important because controllers constantly receive information

that they must immediately grasp, interpret, and remember.

Decisiveness also is required because controllers often have to

make quick decisions. The ability to concentrate is crucial because

controllers must make these decisions in the midst of noise and

other distractions.

At airports, new controllers begin by supplying pilots with

basic flight data and airport information. They then advance to the

position of ground controller, then local controller, departure

controller, and, finally, arrival controller. At an air route

traffic control center, new controllers first deliver printed

flight plans to teams, gradually advancing to radar associate

controller and then radar controller.

Controllers can transfer to jobs at different locations or

advance to supervisory positions, including management or staff

jobs, such as air traffic control data systems computer specialist,

in air traffic control and top administrative jobs in the FAA.

However, there are only limited opportunities for a controller to

switch from a position in an enroute center to a tower.

Controllers work a basic 40-hour week; however, they may work

additional hours, for which they receive overtime, or premium, pay

or equal time off. Because most control towers and centers operate

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, controllers rotate night and weekend


During busy times, controllers must work rapidly and

efficiently. 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 of several aircraft and their passengers

can be exhausting.

Copyright © 2020 Multiply Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved. The material on this site can not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with prior written permission of Multiply.