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How to Become an Air Traffic Controller

Air traffic control is one of the best-paying jobs that do not necessarily need a college degree. Becoming an air traffic controller requires one to fulfill some baseline requirements. You should have either of the following:

If you are in the United States and wish to become an Air Traffic Controller, you should fulfill the following requirements (According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics):

  • Be a citizen of the United States
  • Pass a medical evaluation, which includes background checks and drug screening tests
  • Pass FAA pre-employment test, including the biodata test
  • Pass the Air Traffic Controller Specialists Skills Assessment Battery (ATSA) test
  • Complete the training program at the FAA Academy (you should commence the course before turning 31)

The biodata test, also known as a biographical assessment, is a behavioral consistency test that will evaluate your personality fitness to become an air traffic controller. Candidates must pass the biodata test and ATSA tests to be eligible for FAA Academy enrollment.

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Other requirements include passion an annual physical exam and a biannual job performance exam. All these are in addition to passing periodic drug screenings.

Training to Become Air Traffic Controller

Newly-hired air traffic controllers receive their training at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, OK. The length of training varies depending on the applicant’s background. It’s also worth noting that applicants should be hired by the 31st birthday if they wish to become air traffic controllers.

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Graduation from the academy is followed by being assigned to an air traffic control facility as a developmental controller until you complete the requirements to become a certified air traffic controller. One common responsibility of developmental controllers is making sure pilots get the basic flight data and airport information.

This is followed by advancing to positions within the control room trainees will have added responsibilities. The more responsibilities and skills to acquire, the higher you advance in your training ladder (which comes with higher wages).

As an air traffic controller, you can switch from one position to another provided you complete additional training. For example, you can transfer from an en route position to an airport tower position by completing additional academy training.

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Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Candidates may be required to have up to three years of progressively responsible work experience in any occupation or a combination of college education and work experience. If you have less postsecondary education, you will be required to have more work experience as a substitute.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In order to become a certified air traffic controller, you must hold an Air Traffic Control Tower Operator Certificate or be qualified as stated in Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 65. You should also be 18 years and above, fluent in English, and meet all the skills and knowledge requirements.

Important Qualities to Become an Air Traffic Controller

In order to become an outstanding air traffic controller, the following qualities are imperative:

1. Communication Skills

Be able to give clear, concise instructions, listen keenly to the pilots’ requests, and respond with clear English.

2. Decisionmaking Skills

Be able to make quick decisions and respond swiftly. E.g. when a pilot requests a change of altitude to avoid poor weather.

3. Concentration Skills

Be able to maintain high concentration levels, for example in a room where multiple conversations are happening all at the same time.

4. Math Skills

Be able to do arithmetic quickly and accurately. For example, computing speeds, times, and distances and recommend heading and altitude adjustments.

5. Problem-Solving Skills

Be able to understand complex situations, review important information, and provide appropriate solutions to pilots. For example, how changing weather patterns will impact a plane’s flight path.

6. Organizational Skills

Be able to coordinate multiple flights and prioritize tasks in order to safely guide several pilots simultaneously.


I hope this information will help you as you plan on your new journey as an air traffic controller.

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