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Air Traffic Controller School

Air traffic control careers are just one of the many specializations in the field of aviation, working within a large network of control and operations systems to coordinate public and private aircrafts. An air traffic controller is responsible for directing planes and ensuring safety of takeoffs and landings. This career can be very rewarding, and competition to get into an FAA training program for a career in this field is very high. In order to become an air traffic controller, an individual must pass an exam and take part in hands-on training for relevant experience.

What Does an Air Traffic Controller Do?

An air traffic controller is responsible for minimizing delays in airport traffic, and directing aircraft to their designated airspaces. An air traffic control school helps students learn specific hand movements and gestures that are used in the system, and the individual is usually working with a team of several controllers to direct and coordinate each plane's activity. Air traffic controllers must exhibit sound judgment, have strong communication skills, and adhere to procedures and protocols as designated by the airline or airport. The individual is responsible for following all FAA guidelines during service, and this is taught at schools and training programs around the country.

Air Traffic Control Job Description

After a comprehensive training and education program, graduates are responsible for:

  • Determining traffic patterns and communicating information to the terminal
  • Working with pilots and air traffic controller teams to transmit data
  • Informing the pilot about local conditions, wind, and visibility during takeoffs and landings
  • Working with flight plans and scheduling takeoffs and landings accordingly
  • Working with the airport tower and enroute controllers for each plane's activity
  • Overseeing plane traffic systems, and identifying any problems within the system
  • Maintaining steady traffic levels so that all planes can takeoff and land on schedule

Air Traffic Controller Careers

Air traffic controller schools prepare students for a variety of fields in the aviation and flight industry, and graduates may pursue careers as a:

  • Flight Service Specialist

  • Enroute Controller

  • Airport Tower Controller

  • Terminal Controller

  • Radar Associate Controller

Some controllers choose to work at the FAA's Air Traffic Control Systems Command Center in Hendon, VA where they work with the national air traffic coordination system. Here they are involved with troubleshooting and detecting any problems in the flow of air traffic, and work with the National Airspace System (NAS) Architecture system to meet the demands of each airport.

Training for an Air Traffic Controller Career

In order to pursue this career, an individual needs to pass the air traffic controller exam. They can do this after enrolling in an FAA-approved education program, and these can be found at various schools and other FAA training facilities. Many technical colleges and trade schools also offer the appropriate education and training programs, but air traffic control school is a simple way to complete all of the necessary educational requirements in preparation for the exam.

Air Traffic Controller School: Education Programs and Classes

After completing a pre-employment test, students must pass the test and apply for a position. Only a few students are selected to take the examination, and this is coordinated through random selection. Applicants must have at least 3 years of full-time work experience and/or completed a full 4 years of college. In some cases, a student may substitute aviation and fieldwork experience for semester credits.

If a student completes the FAA-approved program, they must meet additional requirements to be eligible for employment. The student must:

  • Be less than 31 years of age
  • Achieve a qualifying score on the FAA-authorized pre-employment test
  • Pass a medical exam
  • Undergo drug screening
  • Obtain security clearance

After selection, the candidate must attend the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, OK for a rigorous 12-week training program. Here they learn the basic procedures and guidelines for air traffic control systems at any airport in the country, including:

  • FAA regulations and laws
  • Air traffic controller equipment
  • Aircraft performance and diagnostics
  • Fundamentals of airway systems
  • Other specialized tasks

Each graduate achieves the status of 'developmental controller' and is assigned to a facility. It can take between 2-4 years to complete the necessary on-the-job training for an official position. If a candidate fails to meet all the requirements during the training period or meet certification expectations, they are dismissed from the program completely.

Passing the Air Traffic Controller Exam

The exam is a comprehensive test that is usually administered via a computer. The exam covers essential principles and guidelines about air traffic control, along with challenging problem-solving questions and mathematical components. Schools recommend that students take the examination as early as possible during their career; there is a twelve-month waiting period after failure of the exam, and early completion may lead to quicker advancement through the training program.

Career Potential and Employment Prospects for an Air Traffic Controller

This career can be very rewarding, but does require consistent attention, diligent training, and self-discipline. Employment is expected to grow as fast as average for all occupations through 2014. Increasing technology and better computer systems are limiting the number of jobs available for an air traffic controller career, but more job openings are expected as older workers retire and require replacement. Competition to get into and complete the FAA training program is fierce, and many potential controllers simply do not make it through the rigorous training program and examinations.

Median annual earnings were $102,030 in 2004, with the highest salaries exceeding $125,000. The Federal Government employs over 90% of air traffic controllers, and most positions are provided with 13-26 days of paid vacation, 13 days of paid sick leave, and comprehensive life insurance and health benefits each year.


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