Flying is one thing. Managing flights is a different one. He maintains a safe and orderly flow of air traffic. He's an experienced professional, with highly specialized skills. He knows the worth of communication all throughout the process of flying. He is an Air Traffic Controller (ATC), an important part of the National Airspace System (NAS). NAS is an aviation system, involving people, procedures, amenities, and countless equipment, just to ensure a safe flying operation of any commercial or private aircraft. Like the name suggests, air traffic controllers follow the radar to direct and control the movement of air traffic, in order to make sure that the planes are flying at a safe distance. There are approximately 50,000 aircraft flying each day at peak air travel times in the US. Therefore, it is their responsibility to keep the aircraft from colliding with each other, by tracking and managing the pathways of each flight. They are in constant communication with the pilots, so that they keep them informed about the weather conditions and status of the runway. While there are many traffic controllers who are responsible for regulating only airport arrivals and departures, there are some who manage the airport traffic through designated airspaces too. No points for guessing, safety of the flight and the passengers inside it is the ultimate concern for them.
So, seems like, the procedure and requirements for becoming an air traffic controller is what brought you here. Well, to start with, majority of ATCs in the United States of America are employed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is an agency of the Federal Government. To become one with the FAA, give a read to the section that follows below. This segment unleashes all the educational requirements that one needs.
Educational Qualifications: An Overview
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), America, describes three key methods to become an air traffic controller. To start with, if an aspiring ATC has prior experience with the FAA or any Department of Defense as a civilian or a veteran, he has an edge over other applicants from the general public. Second method is, of course, a general application from an aspiring ATC who has completed a full 4-year course of college, or at least 3 years of full-time work experience. An applicant having both the degree as well as the experience has an advantage. Lastly, yet another way of becoming an air traffic controller is to have successfully completed the aviation study program offered by the FAA's Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative program or the AT-CTI.
Now, an aspiring ATC is always required to have a strong background in mathematics and science, as both of these streams are directly related to the job of air traffic control. The FAA recognizes 14 education programs, and hence, an aspiring ATC is required to enroll for any one of them. What's more, he or she is required to pass a pre-employment test that measures aptitude and skills for this career. The ones who pass with a qualifying score then become eligible for working as an ATC. Along with this pre-employment test, an applicant is required to have US citizenship, as well as be well-versed with English, the native language.
After getting accepted into the training program post getting through the FAA pre-employment test, applicants receive 12 weeks of training at the FAA Academy situated in Oklahoma City, where they are trained with regards to the basics of airway systems and regulations, aircraft performance characteristics, and machines that are designed for the purpose of simulating emergency circumstances. This determines how well they are emotionally stable, when under pressure. Note that, an applicant needs to have competitive grades for getting through this 12-week training program, making the program tough, and the reason why 50% of the trainees are not able to get through. Well, if you manage to complete this training program, FAA assures you a job.
As hinted above, an applicant is required to hold US citizenship, and be able to speak English. Other than that, for the job of an ATC, the applicant must be at the most 30 years of age. He must pass not only the physical examinations, but also the psychological tests. What's more, the applicant must have a vision that is 20/20, or if not, it can be corrected. It is extremely essential for an aspiring air traffic controller to be good at articulation and self-control. He must have good memory so that he doesn't face problems in remembering all data and information that quickly changes. During an emergency, he must be able to act patiently and quickly make the best decision, considering the number of lives that are at stake. Statistics has accounted a controllers job is heavily induced with stress, which proactively dictates the constant need for health surveillance.
For an ATC working with the FAA, the average salary reaches up to $160,000 on an annual basis. Well, it also depends upon the number of years of work experience, as well as the city the ATC chooses to serve in. Air traffic controllers facilitate efficient travel to passengers all over the world, and are responsible for not only the aircraft's safety, but of the passengers too. The job profile is extremely enviable, salary figures are mind-boggling... all that is required now is your first step towards becoming a cop of the skies. Here's wishing you luck!