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Career profile Air Traffic Controller

Also known as Air Traffic Control Specialist (ATCS); Air Traffic Control Specialist, Terminal; Air Traffic Control Specialist/Certified Professional Controller (ATC Specialist/CPC); Air Traffic Controller (ATC); Air Traffic Controller (Enroute Option); Air Traffic Controller (Tower Option); Air Traffic Controller, Center; Certified Professional Controller (CPC); Control Tower Operator; Radar Air Traffic Controller

Air Traffic Controller

Also known as Air Traffic Control Specialist (ATCS); Air Traffic Control Specialist, Terminal; Air Traffic Control Specialist/Certified Professional Controller (ATC Specialist/CPC); Air Traffic Controller (ATC); Air Traffic Controller (Enroute Option); Air Traffic Controller (Tower Option); Air Traffic Controller, Center; Certified Professional Controller (CPC); Control Tower Operator; Radar Air Traffic Controller

Interests Profile
  • Enterprising
  • Conventional
  • Realistic
Pay Range
$72,760 - $184,780 (annual)
Required Skills
  • Active Listening
  • Speaking
  • Critical Thinking
Knowledge Areas
  • Transportation
  • Education and Training
  • Public Safety and Security
Core tasks
  • Inform pilots about nearby planes or potentially hazardous conditions, such as weather, speed and direction of wind, or visibility problems.
  • Issue landing and take-off authorizations or instructions.
  • Transfer control of departing flights to traffic control centers and accept control of arriving flights.
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What does an Air Traffic Controller do?

Air Traffic Controllers control air traffic on and within vicinity of airport, and movement of air traffic between altitude sectors and control centers, according to established procedures and policies.

In addition, Air Traffic Controllers authorize, regulate, and control commercial airline flights according to government or company regulations to expedite and ensure flight safety.

What kind of tasks does an Air Traffic Controller perform regularly?

Air Traffic Controllers are often responsible for overseeing or executing some or all of the following tasks:

  • Inform pilots about nearby planes or potentially hazardous conditions, such as weather, speed and direction of wind, or visibility problems.
  • Issue landing and take-off authorizations or instructions.
  • Transfer control of departing flights to traffic control centers and accept control of arriving flights.
  • Provide flight path changes or directions to emergency landing fields for pilots traveling in bad weather or in emergency situations.
  • Alert airport emergency services in cases of emergency or when aircraft are experiencing difficulties.
  • Monitor or direct the movement of aircraft within an assigned air space or on the ground at airports to minimize delays and maximize safety.
  • Direct pilots to runways when space is available or direct them to maintain a traffic pattern until there is space for them to land.
  • Monitor aircraft within a specific airspace, using radar, computer equipment, or visual references.
  • Direct ground traffic, including taxiing aircraft, maintenance or baggage vehicles, or airport workers.
  • Contact pilots by radio to provide meteorological, navigational, or other information.
  • Maintain radio or telephone contact with adjacent control towers, terminal control units, or other area control centers to coordinate aircraft movement.
  • Determine the timing or procedures for flight vector changes.
  • Initiate or coordinate searches for missing aircraft.
  • Provide on-the-job training to new air traffic controllers.
  • Check conditions and traffic at different altitudes in response to pilots' requests for altitude changes.
  • Relay air traffic information, such as courses, altitudes, or expected arrival times, to control centers.
  • Inspect, adjust, or control radio equipment or airport lights.
  • Compile information about flights from flight plans, pilot reports, radar, or observations.
  • Organize flight plans or traffic management plans to prepare for planes about to enter assigned airspace.
  • Review records or reports for clarity and completeness and maintain records or reports, as required under federal law.
  • Complete daily activity reports and keep records of messages from aircraft.

The above responsibilities are specific to Air Traffic Controllers. More generally, Air Traffic Controllers are involved in several broader types of activities:

Making Decisions and Solving Problems
Analyzing information and evaluating results to choose the best solution and solve problems.
Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events
Identifying information by categorizing, estimating, recognizing differences or similarities, and detecting changes in circumstances or events.
Getting Information
Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
Monitoring Processes, Materials, or Surroundings
Monitoring and reviewing information from materials, events, or the environment, to detect or assess problems.
Processing Information
Compiling, coding, categorizing, calculating, tabulating, auditing, or verifying information or data.

What is an Air Traffic Controller salary?

The median salary for an Air Traffic Controller is $130,420, and the average salary is $127,440. Both the median and average roughly describe the middle of the Air Traffic Controller salary range, but the average is more easily affected by extremely high or low salaries.

Many Air Traffic Controllers earn significantly more or less than the average, due to several factors. About 10% of Air Traffic Controllers earn less than $72,760 per year, 25% earn less than $90,950, 75% earn less than $161,820, and 90% earn less than $184,780.

Between the years of 2020 and 2030, the number of Air Traffic Controllers is expected to change by 4.1%, and there should be roughly 2,500 open positions for Air Traffic Controllers every year.

Median annual salary
$130,420
Typical salary range
$72,760 - $184,780
Projected growth (2020 - 2030)
4.1%

What personality traits are common among Air Traffic Controllers?

Interests

Career interests describe a person's preferences for different types of working environments and activities. When a person's interest match the demands of an occupation, people are usually more engaged and satisfied in that role.

Compared to most occupations, those who work as an Air Traffic Controller are usually higher in their Enterprising and Conventional interests.

Air Traffic Controllers typically have very strong Enterprising interests. Enterprising occupations frequently involve starting up and carrying out projects. These occupations can involve leading people and making many decisions. Sometimes they require risk taking and often deal with business.

Also, Air Traffic Controllers typically have very strong Conventional interests. Conventional occupations frequently involve following set procedures and routines. These occupations can include working with data and details more than with ideas. Usually there is a clear line of authority to follow.

Values

People differ in their values, or what is most important to them for building job satisfaction and fulfillment.

Compared to most people, those working as an Air Traffic Controller tend to value Support, Working Conditions, and Independence.

Most importantly, Air Traffic Controllers very strongly value Support. Occupations that satisfy this work value offer supportive management that stands behind employees.

Second, Air Traffic Controllers strongly value Working Conditions. Occupations that satisfy this work value offer job security and good working conditions.

Lastly, Air Traffic Controllers strongly value Independence. Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to work on their own and make decisions.

Psychological Demands

Each occupation brings its own set of psychological demands, which describe the characteristics necessary to perform the job well.

In order to perform their job successfully, people who work as Air Traffic Controllers must consistently demonstrate qualities such as stress tolerance, attention to detail, and dependability.

Below, you'll find a list of qualities typically required of Air Traffic Controllers, ranked by importance:

Stress Tolerance
Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high-stress situations.
Attention to Detail
Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.
Dependability
Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
Adaptability/Flexibility
Job requires being open to change (positive or negative) and to considerable variety in the workplace.
Persistence
Job requires persistence in the face of obstacles.

What education and training do Air Traffic Controllers need?

Air Traffic Controllers often have training in vocational schools, related on-the-job experience, or an associate's degree.

Air Traffic Controllers usually need one or two years of training involving both on-the-job experience and informal training with experienced workers. A recognized apprenticeship program may be associated with this occupation.

Educational degrees among Air Traffic Controllers

  • 0.3% did not complete high school or secondary school
  • 12.6% completed high school or secondary school
  • 31.1% completed some college coursework
  • 14.1% earned a Associate's degree
  • 34.7% earned a Bachelor's degree
  • 6.6% earned a Master's degree
  • 0.6% earned a doctorate or professional degree

Knowledge and expertise required by Air Traffic Controllers

Air Traffic Controllers may benefit from understanding of specialized subject areas, such as transportation, education and training, or public safety and security knowledge.

The list below shows several areas in which most Air Traffic Controllers might want to build proficiency, ranked by importance.

Transportation
Knowledge of principles and methods for moving people or goods by air, rail, sea, or road, including the relative costs and benefits.
Education and Training
Knowledge of principles and methods for curriculum and training design, teaching and instruction for individuals and groups, and the measurement of training effects.
Public Safety and Security
Knowledge of relevant equipment, policies, procedures, and strategies to promote effective local, state, or national security operations for the protection of people, data, property, and institutions.
Customer and Personal Service
Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.
Geography
Knowledge of principles and methods for describing the features of land, sea, and air masses, including their physical characteristics, locations, interrelationships, and distribution of plant, animal, and human life.

Important Abilities needed by Air Traffic Controllers

Air Traffic Controllers must develop a particular set of abilities to perform their job well. Abilities are individual capacities that influence a person's information processing, sensory perception, motor coordination, and physical strength or endurance. Individuals may naturally have certain abilities without explicit training, but most abilities can be sharpened somewhat through practice.

For example, Air Traffic Controllers need abilities such as problem sensitivity, oral comprehension, and oral expression in order to perform their job at a high level. The list below shows several important abilities for Air Traffic Controllers, ranked by their relative importance.

Problem Sensitivity
The ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing that there is a problem.
Oral Comprehension
The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
Oral Expression
The ability to communicate information and ideas in speaking so others will understand.
Selective Attention
The ability to concentrate on a task over a period of time without being distracted.
Deductive Reasoning
The ability to apply general rules to specific problems to produce answers that make sense.

Critical Skills needed by Air Traffic Controllers

Skills are developed capacities that enable people to function effectively in real-world settings. Unlike abilities, skills are typically easier to build through practice and experience. Skills influence effectiveness in areas such as learning, working with others, design, troubleshooting, and more.

Air Traffic Controllers frequently use skills like active listening, speaking, and critical thinking to perform their job effectively. The list below shows several critical skills for Air Traffic Controllers, ranked by their relative importance.

Active Listening
Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
Speaking
Talking to others to convey information effectively.
Critical Thinking
Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to problems.
Judgment and Decision Making
Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.
Monitoring
Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.

What is the source of this information?

The information provided on this page is adapted from data and descriptions published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration under the CC BY 4.0 license. TraitLab has modified some information for ease of use and reading, and the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration has not approved, endorsed, or tested these modifications.

If you have any questions or suggestions about this information, please send a message.