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How to Become an Air Traffic Controller

Tulika Nair
If you have always been fascinated by airplanes and coveted an airline job, then learning how to become an air traffic controller can give you an insight into this profession.
While it is definitely glamorous to be a pilot flying the aircraft to different wondrous destinations or an air hostess, there are many other people behind the smooth machinery that is the airline industry. One of these jobs is that of an air traffic controller.
If you are motivated, committed, and confident, then you should definitely think about it as a career option. In some of the world's busiest airports, one of the most stressful jobs is that of an air traffic controller, who needs to manage the air traffic with the airspace that is assigned.
Becoming an air traffic controller means mastering tasks like relaying instruction to not only the pilots, but also the ground crew, and ensuring that all airplanes land and take off without any mishaps. For all the work that they need to put in, an air traffic controller has radar screens for help, where airplanes show up like tiny blips.
So, if you are fascinated by all these and are looking out for air traffic controller jobs, then you need to know what skills are necessary to become one and the requirements of this position. The job of an air traffic controller is very taxing, as communications with several airplanes go on constantly and simultaneously.
There are no fixed timings, and one has to put in almost 40 hours a week. Doing this job needs tremendous concentration and efficiency. At any given point of time, having the safety of several passengers in your hands can be quite exhausting.

Requirements to Become an Air Traffic Controller

There are three categories of applicants who can apply for this job for openings with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
  • The first category consists of people who have previous experience as an air traffic controller with 52 consecutive weeks of experience. These are the candidates who have air traffic controlling experience with the military. 
So, if you have done everything necessary to become an air traffic controller in the Air Force and have been one, then you would be eligible for a job opening with the FAA. The FAA website provides many other details for the same.
  • The second category of applicants is those people who have no experience of controlling air traffic.
  • The third category of applicants consist of those people who have trained at one of the 31 FAA-approved schools. The programs that these schools provide include non-engineering degrees in air traffic control.
Other necessary requirement for this career is an age limit of 30 years if you have no prior experience as an air traffic controller. There are other skills that an air traffic controller should necessarily possess.
These include the ability to give brief, clear, and concise instructions to the pilot, an ability to interpret and process information fast, a good memory, ability to work in an environment that can be noisy and disruptive, etc.
The FAA regularly advertises vacancies for air traffic controllers. So, once you have gathered all the know-how, routinely check their website for vacant positions. You will need to register on the website for a one-time account, and then apply for the job.
The FAA will scan all the applications it receives, and then inform the eligible applicants about the test date. You will need to give a pre-employment test in order to be considered for the position.
The Air Traffic Selection and Training (AT-SAT), as the test is known, has a minimum passing score of 70, and will test you on different section like analogies, applied math, dial reading, ATC scenario, letter factory, personality, angles, and scan abilities. There are many training resources available in the market that can help you prepare for this test.
If you want to learn how to become an air traffic controller, you will also need to prepare yourself for rigorous rounds of medical checkup, background checks, and an interview. Once selected, you will have to undergo training at the FAA academy at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This is true for all FAA employees who want to become air traffic controllers.
Once you are qualified, you can be posted at different locations. Due to the stressful nature of the job, the salary of an air traffic controller is generally quite high, varying between USD 68,000 to USD 168,000.
This differs depending on your experience and the educational qualifications that you hold. Now that you know how to become an air traffic controller, think seriously about this career option if you are looking at a job with the airline industry.