Do You Have What It Takes? Is ATC a good industry to explore right now?
The job market for air traffic controllers looks very strong for the coming years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that air traffic controllers jobs will grow 13% from 2008 to 2018 to keep up with increasing air traffic and a large volume of existing controllers that are expected to retire. Read more about air traffic controller salaries.
Air Traffic Controller Job Growth
The majority of air traffic controllers working today will be eligible for retirement in the next 10 years. However, expect strong competition from other job seekers as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) typically sees many more applicants for ATC positions than openings. Research air traffic controller training.
Air Traffic Controller Jobs
An air traffic controller's primary responsibility is to "maintain separation" between all types of aircraft. Other responsibilities include aiding the swift and efficient movement of aircraft to and from airports and across great distances en route. Finally, air traffic controllers assist pilots in emergency situations.
Air traffic controllers typically work for the U.S. Government and are employed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), although some controllers work in what are called "contract" towers where air traffic control (ATC) services are awarded to private companies. If you would like to begin training to become an air traffic controller, start now. You must be 30 years old or less to apply for a job with ATC. Learn more about air traffic controller training.
Where You'll Work as an Air Traffic Controller
As an air traffic controller, you can expect to work in one or all of these four areas:
At the airport - these controllers work at what's called the "tower" even though you may or may not actually be located in the tower. Tower controllers are responsible for local airport operations including reporting weather, issuing takeoff clearances, controlling aircraft on the ground, issuing runway assignments, handling all arriving and departing traffic, and above all, ensuring that all of these aircraft maintain a safe distance from each other at all times.
Near the airport - Terminal "approach" control, or TRACON for short, handles all inbound and outbound traffic in a specific area near an airport, or a group of airports. A good example is that most big cites have TRACON services that handle all aircraft in the general vicinity of the metropolitan area. TRACON controllers make sure all aircraft are properly sequenced and spaced for safe arrivals and departures from all airports in the entire area.
En route - Between major metropolitan areas are vast expanses of airspace. "Center" controllers handle all traffic in these areas and rely on long-range radar and radio services to maintain contact with, and separation for, all aircraft under their control.
Flight Service Stations (FSS) - Flight service stations are regional offices that supply vital flight planning, weather, en route, communication, and navigation information via radio to pilots already airborne, and via telephone and computer to pilots planning flights on the ground. Sometimes flight service specialists (people who work in an FSS) will help other ATC personnel by relaying radio messages to pilots who cannot talk to other ATC controllers because of current location and altitude.
Air Traffic Controller Requirements
Air traffic controllers must be good multitaskers, with the ability to make quick decisions efficiently. Most of the time, controllers are "working" several aircraft simultaneously, and are responsible for giving the pilots correct information via radio, making sure that the aircraft is not too close to each other (separation), and all the while, ensuring the efficient flow of traffic into and out of the controller's sector.
Learn more about air traffic controller jobs.