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How to become an Air Traffic Controller

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If you’ve ever wondered how to become an Air Traffic Controller then this post might give you some direction. Air traffic control jobs are available for anyone seeking a first or second career in aviation.  The demand has been created by both the natural churn of controllers and the growth in the aviation industry.

Air Traffic Controllers are responsible for the safe and expeditious movement of aircraft in and around airports and other high traffic areas. They coordinate take-offs and landings and make sure all the aircraft stay a safe distance apart. Controllers communicate with pilots during flights to direct them during take-off and landing and to tell them about their route, weather conditions, runway closures, and other important information.

The main purpose of air traffic control is to help pilots to fly their aircraft safely to their destinations. The job is also important for minimizing delays at the airport. Air Traffic Controllers help aircraft arrive and leave as smoothly and quickly as possible while remaining within safety parameters.

What’s it like to be an Air Traffic Controller?

Air traffic controllers usually work in control facilities or towers and consequently since most are responsible for aircraft take-offs and landings ATC towers are usually within the airfield boundary, but some air traffic control facilities may be located miles away from the nearest airport. Some control facilities may be semi-dark, in order to enhance concentration on the information displayed on screens.

Air traffic control jobs are essential, but they can be stressful at times. Controllers usually work eight-hour shifts, during which a lot of concentration is required. Aircraft fly at all hours of the day and night, so Air Traffic Controllers may have to switch between day and night shifts, or work on weekends and holidays. The Federal Aviation Authority limits shifts to 10 hours and requires that controllers have at least 9 hours of rest between shifts.

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How to Become an Air Traffic Controller

One way to become an air traffic controller in the USA is to get an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree from an approved Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative program. There are 36 schools in the United States that offer AT-CTI programs. You can also become a controller if you have at least three years of work experience, a bachelor’s degree in another field, or a combination of the two.

According to the Federal Aviation Authority, one year of college or 30 semester hours is equal to nine months of work experience. To begin a career in air traffic control in the United States, you must be younger than 31 years of age. You also must complete training at the Federal Aviation Authority Academy in Oklahoma City, pass a pre-employment test, and undergo a medical exam.

In the UK you can become an air traffic controller through trainee schemes run by NATS (National Air Traffic Services). To be eligible for consideration you’ll need a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 or equivalent qualifications, including English and Maths. Training takes place at the NATS centre near Fareham in Hampshire.

Ab initio training lasts up to a year and there is likely to be more training as your career develops. If you’ve got experience as a military air traffic controller, or military or commercial pilot then you may also apply for a position. Career Prospects for Air Traffic Controllers.

As of 2018, there were about 26,000 air traffic controllers working in the United States. In the UK there are currently about 1,700 Controllers  employed by NATS. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of air traffic control jobs will grow by 3 percent by 2026.

The field is highly competitive with many candidates applying for each opening, but jobs do open up fairly regularly as air traffic controllers are eligible to retire earlier than most people.

A Large And Busy Atc Team Working The Night Shift
A Large And Busy Atc Team Working The Night Shift

Salaries for Air Traffic Controllers

In 2018, the median salary for air traffic controllers in the USA was $124,540. The highest 10 percent of workers earned over $175,800, and the lowest 10 percent of workers earned less than $67,440.

In the UK trainees can expect to earn about £17,000 per annum rising to £30-40,000 pa once fully qualified. These are base salary figures and don’t include shift allowances, overtime, and bonuses. Senior controllers at Heathrow and Swanwick can earn up to £100,000 pa.

To be eligible to beome an Air Traffic Controller in India you’ll need a degree in either engineering, electronics, or electrical disciplines. Candidates should be aged between 21 and 27 and can expect to earn a salary of 40,000 Rupees per month as trainees.

Your salary depends on your years of experience, the location of your facility, and the complexity of your flight paths. As you complete extra levels of on-the-job training, your salary may increase.

Your Career In Air Traffic Control May Begin At A Small Regional Airport
Your Career In Air Traffic Control May Begin At A Small Regional Airport

A Career in Air Traffic Control

The Psychological and Physical Demands

A career in air traffic control is not only intellectually demanding but also places significant psychological and physical demands on individuals. The role requires exceptional concentration, decision-making under pressure, and the ability to multitask effectively. Air traffic controllers must maintain high levels of mental alertness and be able to respond swiftly to changing situations. The job can be stressful, given the high stakes of ensuring passenger safety. Therefore, resilience and stress management techniques become crucial for those in the profession.

Technological Proficiency

As the aviation industry continues to evolve, so too does the technology that underpins air traffic control operations. Modern air traffic control relies heavily on advanced radar systems, sophisticated flight tracking software, and complex communication equipment. Aspiring air traffic controllers must be technologically savvy and adaptable to learn and master these systems. Continuous professional development is a key aspect of the career, with ongoing training to keep abreast of technological advancements.

Global Opportunities and Challenges

The demand for air traffic controllers is not limited to any single country but is a global requirement. With the growth of international air travel, there are opportunities for controllers to work in various parts of the world. However, this also presents challenges, such as navigating the regulatory environments of different countries and potentially learning new languages or dialects used in aviation communication.

Environmental Considerations

Air traffic controllers play a pivotal role in efforts to make aviation more environmentally sustainable. Efficient flight paths reduce fuel consumption and emissions, contributing to the aviation industry’s environmental goals. Controllers are at the forefront of implementing new procedures that balance safety, efficiency, and environmental considerations.

The Role of Automation

The future of air traffic control will likely see increased automation, with artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies supporting controllers’ work. While automation can enhance safety and efficiency, it also raises questions about the changing nature of the controller’s role and the skills that future controllers will need.

How To Become An Air Traffic Controller
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