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Air Traffic Controller TrainingWhere do I start?
By Kyle Garrett
Air traffic controllers play a vital role in modern aviation. From providing up to date weather information to keeping planes from getting too close, air traffic control is an exciting and necessary career. If you're considering becoming an air traffic controller, you must go through a multi-step process that begins early. Specifically, those training for an air traffic control career must be younger than 30 unless they already have experience as an air traffic controller (such as through the military). From there, you must go to college, apply for an ATC job, and attend the FAA training academy.
Go to College or University
While not totally essential, the easiest way to begin a career as an air traffic controller is to go to college. There are numerous FAA-approved schools offering training through the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) that will help you meet the minimum requirements for applying for an ATC opening with the FAA. Once you have completed your two-year or four-year degree, you should receive a letter of recommendation from your school and apply for an ATC job. If you've already gotten a degree or you're switching careers, you must have either progressively responsible full-time work experience or college study to qualify. Specifically, you need three years of work, four years of college, or some combination of the two to satisfy the minimum requirements.
Apply for a Job
Once you've met education or work experience requirements, you must pass an exam. The computer-based pre-employment exam requires about 8 hours to complete and is only offered by the FAA. Typically, there are more applicants than test slots, but AT-CTI applicants in good academic standing are guaranteed an opportunity to take the exam. Once you've passed the exam, you are technically eligible for an air traffic controller job, unfortunately, you must then undergo an extensive background check and drug testing. It's safe to say, the FAA doesn't let just anyone work ATC.
Attend FAA Air Traffic Controller Academy Training
Finally, once you're hired, the FAA will send you to Oklahoma City to their Air Traffic Controller Academy for 12 weeks of intensive training on the ATC system, regulations, and equipment. Thankfully, if you're a graduate of an AT-CTI program, you may be able to bypass the first five weeks of training. Once you've graduated from the academy, you will receive an assignment to a real air traffic control facility for an additional 2 to 4 years of on-the-job-training. If you make it through all that training, you're all set for one of the most fulfilling careers available today.
As you can tell, air traffic controller careers are not for the faint of heart. The training is extensive, but it has to be, because ATC is a high-stakes career. If you think you've got what it takes, now is the time to start training for your air traffic controller career.
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