What Do Air Traffic Controllers Do?
Air traffic controllers shoulder a great deal of responsibility behind the scenes. Without them, an airport cannot function properly or safely. They direct air traffic around the airport to ensure smooth flow and avoid tragic accidents. Air traffic controllers make sure that planes adhere to prescribed guidelines and policies so that passengers, crew and staff make it through the day unharmed and so that flight schedules are efficient and profitable. On a national level, 1,140 jobs are projected to open up each year, equaling a growth rate of just 1 percent.
Air Traffic Controller Skills and Abilities
As an air traffic controller, you need to have an eye for detail and commitment to high standards of safety and accuracy. A keen ability to communicate clearly with flight crews and other airport staff is vital to successful job performance. You also need to have a solid knowledge of the transportation field and exercise sound judgment in problem-solving and risk assessment situations. This is a high-stress career, so you must be able to work well under pressure and focus on the task at hand regardless of your environment.
Air Traffic Controller Duties
The duties of an air traffic controller are many. Analytical and communication skills are paramount. You will be required to constantly filter information, making judgment calls on what is important and communicating that information to the appropriate parties. You need to be able to handle this pressure and to work in a fast-paced environment without losing your cool. You will be in close contact with flight crews, advising them of ground conditions and directing their routes. You will be responsible for monitoring weather conditions and handling emergency protocols, to name just a few of your responsibilities. Your daily workload might also include:
- Maintaining records and reports of activity
- Analyzing routes based on geographic, meteorological and other factors
- Maintaining radio contact with incoming and outbound flights
- Coordinating search and rescue operations for missing aircraft
Air Traffic Controller Tools and Technology
Air traffic controllers are heavily dependent on computer and radio technologies to perform their job as they monitor flights and external conditions. This goes beyond basic computer skills to using aircraft guidance systems and radar-based surveillance. High-frequency radios are used for pilot communication. You will use highly specialized software for flight control and route analysis.
Education and Training for Air Traffic Controllers
While an Associate’s degree is all that is usually required for an air traffic controller, additional education is definitely a plus. In fact, 33.6 percent of all air traffic controllers between the ages of 25 and 44 have earned their Bachelor’s degree. This is a career you can theoretically enter with no prior experience; most of the training required is on the job, and you will continue to complete long-term training for the duration of your career. However, with such a minimal rate of growth in this field, you can greatly improve your chances of landing a job by earning an air traffic management degree from an FAA-certified school.
Air Traffic Controller Salary
Air traffic controllers make a nice salary, with the lowest 10 percent still commanding $32.24 per hour, which translates to $67,100 per year. The median salary is $122,300, while the top 10 percent make up to $172,000 annually.
Air Traffic Controller Jobs by Geography
The greatest number of air traffic controller jobs are centered around the country’s largest airports, in California, Texas, Florida, Virginia, Illinois, New York and Georgia. The U.S. Virgin Islands and Texas are projected to see the greatest percentage of growth in this field by 2020. Over 90 percent of air traffic controllers are employed by the federal government.