Air Traffic Controller School

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Air Traffic Controller Job Duties

Air traffic controllers are responsible for the safety and routing of planes by using a variety of equipment, such as radars and computers. Individuals are responsible for using radars to track movement, authorize takeoffs and landings, as well as course changes. Air traffic controllers must be attentive and competent, as they are responsible for accident prevention and safety.  The primary responsibility of an air traffic controller is safety followed by the efficient flow of transportation vehicles and people across the entire airport system.  The typical job duties of an air traffic controller include the following:

  • Providing information to pilots and crew
  • Issuing landing and take-off clearances
  • Scheduling arrival and departures at a designated airport
  • Providing flight path alternatives and directives
  • Communicating weather changes to pilots and crew members
  • Transfer information to emergency response teams, as needed
  • Controlling flow of planes, airport personnel, and baggage vehicles

Airport & Air Traffic Control

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is to governing agency that oversees all air traffic.  Much like state boundaries on the terra firms, the FAA has divided up the airspace in the United States into twenty-one different regions or centers.  Each designated center is further divided into sectors and zones known as Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) airspaces.

The air traffic control system divisions that are managed by the FAA include five main entities that include the following:

  • Flight Service Station - The FSS provides pilots with critical flight information such as weather changes, flight plans, and terrain as they fly to and from small airports.  FSS team-members are responsible for helping to coordinate search and rescue missions and assisting pilots with urgent and emergencies.
  • TRACON - Terminal Radar Approach Control is the division assisting with all incoming and outgoing aircraft within its designated airspace.
  • Air Traffic Control Tower - An air traffic control tower or ATCT is located at every airport with scheduled flights and helps with traffic navigation, takeoffs, and landings of all aircraft.
  • Air Route Traffic Control Center - The FAA assigns one air route traffic control center per center to manage air traffic within all applicable sectors with the exception of local airport airspace and TRACON designated airspace.
  • Air Traffic Control System Command Center - The ATCS Command Center manages all air traffic and resolves center-based problems such as weather changes, conflicting priorities, runway issues, etc.

Types of Air Traffic Controllers

There are three different types of air traffic controllers in a typical airport setting.  The roles are broken down by tower duties, traveling, and air space controllers.  A brief overview of each type of air traffic controller is listed below to help you more effectively select college degree programs that fit you best.

Air Space:  An arrival and departure air traffic controller will be charged with the responsibility of all aircraft within an airport's air space.  They will dictate aircraft flow, separation, weather notices, and clearance for aircraft vehicles.  An arrival and departure air traffic controller uses radar technology to manage flight information and generally work at an airport's TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control Center).

Tower Controllers:  An air traffic controller that works in an airport tower on-site, is responsible for the flow of aircraft, vehicles, and people at a specific airport.  As the name indicates, they work from control towers as they need to visually observe traffic flow in conjunction with specific communication devices and airport instrumentation.  A tower controller will provide pilots and crew with flight plans, weather updates, provide clearance, and direct movement of vehicles for an specific airline carrier.

External Controllers: An external air traffic controller is a specialist that works to manage the aircraft traveling to and from airports not within a defined airport's air space.  External air traffic controllers will typically work at route traffic control centers across the country which is a centralized hub versus being on-site at a specific airport.

Best Air Traffic Control Schools

Individuals wishing to become air traffic controllers must be American citizens and receive a degree in the field from a school that has been accredited by the Federal Aviation Administration. Individuals may receive an associate's or bachelor's degree, or may substitute some, most, or all of that education through previous education through the armed services. Once completed, individuals will need to pass an FAA exam in order to be eligible for employment.

A curriculum may include:

  • Aviation Technology
  • Energy and Propulsion
  • Air Traffic Control Systems
  • Transportation & Legislation
  • Aviation Regulations
  • Aviation Operations and Management
  • Air Traffic Control 
  • Dispatching
  • Aircraft Accident Investigation
  • Transportation Safety Management Systems
  • Aeronautics 
  • Airport Management
  • Radar Fundamentals
  • Aircraft Characteristics
  • Control Tower Operations

Individuals will look for schools that have access to equipment that best represent or emulate real world situations in order to become familiar with operations. It is important to note that individuals need to graduate from an FAA accredited school, as non-accredited school educations will be ineligible for the exam required to find employment.  Additional information regarding accreditation and examination, as well as general information regarding air traffic control regulations may be found at the Federal Aviation Administration website.  For more information on how to become an air traffic controller, simply request information from any number of accredited schools found through our portal.

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Employment Information in Air Traffic Control

Air traffic control is not expected to see increases in job growth over the next decade due to extensive hires over the last decade. Most job opening are expected to result from the retiring of current air traffic controllers. Individuals in this field work at airports and airstrips, and can be found in both civilian and military locations. The field requires individuals to be knowledgeable about planes, their capabilities, and how to guide them from a distance.

An air traffic controller salary will vary by job scope and geographic location from coast to coast.  That being said, the BLS publishes annual salary information that puts the median air traffic controller income at $124,540 or $59.78 per hour.  The average salary for an air traffic controlled is well above the national average and is estimated to remain stable over the coming decade.

Additional Information for Air Traffic Controllers

The Air Traffic Control Association is a professional organization established in 1956 to protect and advance the interests of professionals in this field, including member discounts, scholarships, events, networking opportunities, and a robust career center on their website.

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Related Areas of Study

Career Summary: Air traffic controller Major




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