We’ve all seen movies that have a dramatic scene where an air traffic controller helps prevent an emergency. Sometimes they help airplanes prevent a collision, other times they help talk someone through landing a plane. It seems like air traffic controller have a very wide set of skills when it comes to commercial airplanes and can keep cool like no one else.
A common question that people have about air traffic controllers is if they can fly a plane. After all, air traffic controllers sit in a command center and help guide pilots after going through one of the most rigorous training courses in the world.
So, can an air traffic controller fly an air plane?
No, air traffic controllers cannot fly a plane. Being an air traffic controller requires different training than being a pilot.
In this article we’ll take a closer look at this question as well as answer some related questions.
Different Set of Skills
While both of these occupations requires it’s professionals to meet strict requirements and undergo intense training, the skills they have are very different from one another.
Airline pilots focus their training on being able to operate the airplane and it’s complicated set of systems. They have to be able to take off, land, navigate using only instruments, and much more.
Air traffic controllers on the other hand use complex communication tools to help pilots navigate the sky and airports. This includes helping organize traffic at the airport, select safe routes, and prevent getting too close to other aircraft.
An air traffic controller would not have the skills to step into the cockpit of a commercial airliner and take over the controls. These aircraft are very complex pieces of machinery that require very specific training that takes years to master.
While air traffic controllers do have a great understanding of aviation and the industry as a whole, they do not have the specific skills needed to fly a modern aircraft.
Related: Requirements to be an air traffic controller
Can Air Traffic Controllers Learn to Fly?
While air traffic controllers don’t learn to fly an airplane as part of their training, you might be wondering if they can learn to fly on their own.
Yes! Air traffic controllers are welcome to earn a pilot license on their own time just like anyone else can. It may also be a little bit easier for them to do so for several reasons.
First, they already have a great understanding of the aviation industry and airplanes due to their professional training, so they have a great foundation for it.
Second, some of the skills and traits required to be an air traffic controller transfer well to being a pilot. Things like being able to keep calm under pressure, communicate effectively using complex systems, and more.
Lastly, depending on the type of pilot license you want to earn you may be required to pass a medical exam. Air traffic controllers also have to pass a medical exam for their position, so if you qualify for one there is a better chance you qualify for the other.
Can Air Traffic Controllers Fly an Airplane Remotely?
Another common question that people have about air traffic controllers is if they can fly a plane remotely. It would make sense that with today’s technology an air traffic controller can “patch in” to an airplanes controls in the event a pilot was incapacitated and take over. It seems like something right out of a movie.
So, can an air traffic controller remotely take over and control an airplane?
No, unfortunately this type of technology does not yet exist.
Having an air traffic controller take over a plane via remote control is not something that can be done due to safety concerns and a lack of technology that allows it to be done effectively.
For this to be an option, the person taking over control of the aircraft would need to have all the information a pilot has in real-time, as well as the skill set needed to operate the airplane. That means you’d have to have a pilot sitting in a chair using a system that let them control the aircraft with no lag or delay.
This is not something that exists at this time.
As you can see, being a pilot is very different from being an air traffic controller. Each of these professions requires years of intense training and dedication to the profession.
They each play a very critical role in the aviation industry, but they are also very different from one another as far as their training, skills, and responsibilities.
If you are interested in learning more about becoming an air traffic controller, make sure to visit the FAA’s page on it to learn more.