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AnswerTo 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 requirements.

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 shifts.

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.

2010-01-07 08:04:25
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