Air traffic controllers are the traffic police of the sky – they enable aircraft to fly around and not crash into each other. This job may not be dangerous at first sight, but it is extreme, as the lives of thousands rest on the shoulders of air traffic controllers, who must make split second decisions that directly affect the wellbeing of thousands constantly.
Job description: Air traffic controllers direct and guide aircraft in all stages of flight – taxi, takeoff, flight, and landing. Air traffic control is divided into two segments:
Terminal Controllers: watch and guide aircraft in the airport’s airspace. This includes instructing aircraft on which runways to take-off and land, taxi instructions and referral to gates. Terminal controllers must pay close attention to maintaining the proper distance between aircraft taking off and landing.
En route Controllers: control and guide aircraft along their flight routes. En route controllers inspect heading, altitude and speed of the aircraft under their supervision, constantly verifying that none of the aircraft are on a collision course.
All air traffic controllers work under extreme pressure and stress and can monitor several aircraft at once. They must make fast decisions, convey instructions quickly and stay highly focused during their shift.
Work environment: Most air traffic controllers work and operate in dark rooms, watching radar screens. Some work at the top of control towers in airports guiding taxing aircraft and they must be on a constant lookout for movement of aircraft. The work load can be very high, and stress is a constant companion. Air traffic controllers can be responsible for hundreds or even thousands of lives at any given moment of their shift.
What makes it a dangerous job: This job might not be dangerous, but it is extreme. The responsibility lying on the shoulders of air traffic controllers is immense, and many stress and pressure related illnesses occur.
Hours / Lifestyle: Work is in shifts – as air transport never stops. Air traffic controller can, therefore, work any day of the week and at any time as the towers and radars are active 24/7. Controllers work around 40 hours a week, although may need to put in overtime if needed.
Pay: This is a high paying job, with good benefits. The average annual wage is above $110K, or $53 an hour.
Requirements: Applicants without air traffic control experience must be under the age of 30, and must meet basic requirements and pass the FAA-authorized pre-employment test. Applicants must have a 4-year college degree, prior experience (usually from the military) or successfully graduate from an aviation related program from the AT-CTI (Air traffic college training initiative).Also, air traffic controls must be able to speak clearly and to be understood over the radio.
Training: Takes place at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City – lasting 12 weeks. This basic training teaches regulations, aircraft performance, equipment and other professional courses. Following successful graduation, air traffic controllers are posted at airports or traffic control centers and begin the process of receiving certifications – a lengthy process which can take several years.
Career opportunities: Air traffic controllers advance by responsibility – terminal controllers begin by supplying pilots with flight data, and advance to ground controller, local, departure and finally arrival controller. En route controllers begin delivering information to teams and advance to the position of radar controller. 56 is the mandatory age for retirement.
Job opportunities: Terminal controllers work at airports, whilst en route controllers work in one of 20 stations spread out throughout the country.
Job prospects: Many air traffic controllers will be retiring in the years to come, so many positions will be available. However, strong competition is expected, as this job pays well and has good benefits.