If you are interested in becoming an air traffic controller, you might might want to know what their schedule looks like. Even if it’s not a job you have interest in doing yourself, you still might be curious how their work week is set up.
This is a common question people have about air traffic controllers.
So, what does the schedule of an air traffic controller look like?
Air traffic controllers usually work 5 shifts per week with each shift being 8 hours long.
In this article we will take closer look at what their schedules look like and cover their days off, shift length, schedule organization, and more. This info is based on the rules the FAA provides for their ATC’s as well as information we obtained from those actually doing the job.
Typical Schedule for an Air Traffic Controller
As mentioned above, the typical schedule for an air traffic controller includes working 5 days per week for 8 hour shifts. In some cases if a facility is short staffed ATC’s have reported having to work 6 days per week for a limited time.
While their shifts are 8 hours long, they are usually only allowed to work for up to 2 hours straight on position before taking a break. Studies show that after doing this intense of a job for more than 2 hours you are more likely to see the effects of being mentally fatigued. This can lead to a loss of focus, decision making, and increased chance of making a mistake.
This 2 hour on position time is a guideline and not an exact rules. There are times that an ATC will have to work for slightly longer due to staffing.
This means that within that 8 hour shift air traffic controllers will be on position then take a break, then be on position, then take another break, etc.
Do Air Traffic Controllers Have a Set Schedule?
The week-to-week schedule for an air traffic controller is based on the staffing needs of the facility they work at. In many situations, you’ll have a very consistent schedule with little or no variation from week to week.
From time to time your location might have a staffing need that requires some ATC’s to change their schedule to accommodate the needs of the facility and air traffic.
How Long are their Shifts?
As mentioned above, air traffic controllers typically work 8 hour shifts.
How Many Days Off Do Air Traffic Controllers Get?
Usually, air traffic controllers get 2 days off per week. In some cases if the location they work at is short staffed they might need to work 6 days in a week.
In some cases this might even mean they work 2 partial shifts in a week as needed. For example, your schedule could include working 4 days for 8 hours and 2 more days for 4 hours each.
Do Air Traffic Controllers Work Nights and Weekends?
Yes! As you can imagine, airports have flights taking off and landing at all times of the day and night. There are always planes in the sky and there is always a need for air traffic controllers. This is a job where the professionals are needed 27/7/365.
That being said, some facilities do have times where they are closed and their duties are transferred to another facility.
Breaks and Lunch Beaks
Air traffic controllers are expected to take a 40 minute break in between the on position times they work actually directing traffic. This is a guideline and not a strict rule as sometimes an ATC will take a shorter or longer break as needed.
They also get a 30 minute lunch break every day. This time is what’s called “re-callable” meaning that if something were to happen and you are needed, you would be expected to hop right back into your job.
Due to the nature of airports (and flights) having a need for air traffic controllers at all times, air traffic controllers might not have the typical Monday through Friday 9am to 5pm schedule.
While their schedule might not be traditional compared to some office jobs, it is still more consistent than many other jobs in the aviation industry. In fact, more air traffic controllers can have pretty close to a regular work schedule that allows them to effectively plan their life outside of the office.
Like most careers, those just starting out might find themselves taking more of the undesirable shifts until they built up more seniority and are able to have more input into which shifts they want to work.
Air traffic controllers provide a much needed service to the aviation industry and make sure that flight are guided to their destination safely 24/7.