Overview

There are no formal educational requirements in Canada for becoming an air traffic controller, other than passing the Air Traffic Controller assessments and interview. If you live in the United States, you must obtain an air traffic management degree from an FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) certified school, achieve a qualifying score on the FAA test, and further complete a training course at the FAA academy. If you have any previous air traffic control experience (eg. military training), you may not need to complete the FAA educational requirements.

After mandatory training is complete, an air traffic controller must undergo a period of further training in regards to specific area procedures for the sector of their work unit. Most of the training is done in live situations commonly known as 'on the job training'. This training is done with qualified and trained mentors and on the job instructors who are also connected to the sector to help guide the new controllers and to take over in case of an emergency.

This training lasts anywhere from months to years much like the previous training and depending on how much traffic the assigned sector is known to receive. Only after they have successfully completed a full training program will they be allowed control of their own sector without the constant aid of others.

Should I become an Air Traffic Controller?

Before assessing whether or not you can become an air traffic controller, it's time to decide whether or not you should. Some things to consider:

This is a very high stress job, and the salary reflects that. Air traffic controllers often make over $100,000, although they don't make that amount right out of the gate. According to the FAA, as of January 2016, air traffic controllers earn $18,343 while in training, $38,193 on initial assignment and between $49,666 - $144,195 for certified professional controllers based on factors such as experience and location. Location is important, as air traffic controllers receive additional locality pay ranging from 14.35% to 35.75% of their salary based on where they work.

Unfortunately, air traffic controllers do not get to choose where they work. You can list your geographic preference, but where you end up working will largely depend on the FAA's needs.

Similarly, air traffic controllers do not choose their own hours, and have to work a variety of shifts, i.e., day and night shifts. This is to keep the workload balanced between air traffic controllers, as someone working exclusively day shifts would be landing significantly more planes than someone only working night shifts.

Working means absolute focus for the entirety of the shift. Air traffic controllers are constantly making important decisions, and as you can imagine, there is no room for error. If you have trouble concentrating for long periods of time and/or have trouble making good decisions in stressful situations, this most likely is not a good career choice for you.

Being an air traffic controller requires constant communication and teamwork, excellent problem solving skills, good time management skills, and the ability to multitask effectively.

A large challenge to the career is simply getting into it, as the requirements are many and the positions are few. But those who do make it enjoy a challenging and rewarding career.

What are Air Traffic Controllers like?

Investigative

Based on our pool of users, air traffic controllers tend to be predominately investigative people. Take our career test to see what career interest category best describes you.

Air Traffic Controllers by Strongest Interest Archetype

Based on sample of 137 Sokanu users

Are Air Traffic Controllers happy?

57%Happy

Air traffic controllers rank as moderately happy among careers. Overall they rank in the 57th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores.

Air Traffic Controller Career Satisfaction by Dimension

Percentile among all careers

Education History of Air Traffic Controllers

The most common degree held by air traffic controllers is Business Management And Administration. 6% of air traffic controllers had a degree in business management and administration before becoming air traffic controllers. That is over 1 times the average across all careers. Psychology graduates are the second most common among air traffic controllers, representing 3% of air traffic controllers in the Sokanu user base, which is 0.4 times the average.

Air Traffic Controller Education History

This table shows which degrees people earn before becoming an Air Traffic Controller, compared to how often those degrees are obtained by people who earn at least one post secondary degree.

Degree % of air traffic controllers % of population Multiple
Business Management And Administration 6.5% 6.5% 1.0×
Psychology 2.9% 6.8% 0.4×
Airport Operations 2.2% 0.1% 38.4×
Mathematics 1.4% 1.8% 0.8×

Air Traffic Controller Education Levels

41% of air traffic controllers have an associate's degree. 36% of air traffic controllers have a high school diploma.

No education 1%
High school diploma 36%
Associate's degree 41%
Bachelor's degree 22%
Master's degree 0%
Doctorate degree 0%

How to Become an Air Traffic Controller

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