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Air Traffic Controllers: Career, Salary and Education Information
Career Profile: What do Air Traffic Controllers do?
Air traffic controllers rely on radar and visual observation to direct the movements of commercial and private aircraft. They work to keep planes and passengers safe as they minimize delays. Much more than traffic directors, air traffic controllers keep pilots informed on weather conditions and runway status during arrivals and departures. Most controllers are employed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a branch of the federal government.
A Day in the Life of an Air Traffic Controller
Controllers often work in semi-darkness, using the visuals from their equipment as guides. In terminals open all night, air traffic controllers often rotate day and night shifts. While most work a traditional 40-hour work week, the possibility for extra hours can mean overtime pay or additional vacation.
Working as an air traffic controller comes with daily stress because they care for the safety of several aircraft and hundreds if not thousands of passengers on any given day. Because of the job stress, federal employees are eligible for retirement benefits at age 50 or after 25 years of service.
Air Traffic Controller Training and Education
The educational path for air traffic controllers requires a bachelor's degree or related experience, plus an FAA-approved training program, and completion of an 8-hour certification exam. Training for new controllers with only initial controller training, ranges between 2 and 4 years.
Air traffic controllers must meet basic requirements for employment, including being less than 31 years of age and holding appropriate school recommendations. Rigorous standards are required in the educational process. For federal employment, a recent pre-employee processing system ensures that only the best graduates are chosen to become FAA air traffic controllers.
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Air Traffic Controller Employment & Outlook
In 2006, about 25,000 air traffic controllers were employed nationwide. That figure is expected to grow in the coming years, as the FAA plans to hire and train nearly 17,000 new air traffic controllers over the next ten years. In fiscal year 2008 alone, the FAA plans to hire 1,900 additional air traffic controllers.
The high demand for air traffic controllers is due in part to high academic standards among controllers and a lack of certified training programs. Some students can find their training extended due to a lack of instructors or facilities. While competition to get into FAA-approved courses is high, job prospects for graduates are expected to be good.
Typical Air Traffic Controller Salary
In 2007, air traffic controllers saw mean annual earnings of $107,780, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those working for the Federal Executive Branch (including the FAA) saw slightly higher earnings, at $112,670. Air traffic controllers earned the most yearly salary in Illinois over all other states, at $126,740.