To work as an air traffic controller, you typically need to:
- have a high school diploma or equivalent;
- have a bachelor's degree and three years of work experience OR have a combination of the two;
- pass a pre-employment test;
- be under 31 years of age;
- pass a medical exam and drug screening;
- obtain a security clearance;
- complete training at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) academy; and
- complete long-term, on-the-job training.
Education after high school
Currently, the FAA hires air traffic controllers only from these specific groups:
- graduates of FAA-approved college programs;
- people with prior air traffic control experience; or
- military veterans, preferably air traffic controllers.
Training for air traffic controllers is a combination of formal and on-the-job training.
To qualify for training, you must pass a selection process. First, you must pass an exam that measures your ability to learn a controller's duties. After passing the exam, you go through a week of screening at the FAA academy in Oklahoma City. At the academy, you take aptitude tests on computer simulators. You also take physical and psychological exams. All of these tests and exams are to determine your suitability for controller's work. After passing this initial screening, you take a drug-screening test.
After passing the screening process, you train for seven months at the FAA academy. At the academy, you study the airway system, FAA rules, controller equipment, and aircraft performance. You must pass a series of exams and show you can recognize and solve problems quickly. In addition, you must make sound judgments based on spatial relationships. You also must apply FAA procedures and rules to many air traffic situations.
For additional details, go to the FAA website.
Work experience as a pilot or in airport operations is good experience for this occupation.
After graduating from the FAA academy, you work as a trainee for several years. During this period, you gain work experience, take more classroom training, and complete self-study assignments. You work your way up through a series of more difficult jobs. You begin by giving pilots routine flight and airport information. Then you control aircraft at the airport ramps and taxiways. You then move on to local controller, departure controller, and finally to arrival controller. These on-the-job training steps are necessary to become a fully qualified controller.
The military trains people to be air traffic controllers. Training lasts from seven to 13 weeks, depending on the specialty. Further training occurs on the job and through advanced courses.
Military experience as air traffic controller is excellent preparation for FAA training as an air traffic controller.