Have you ever considered pursuing a career as an air traffic controller?
For most people, being an air traffic controller is at least a little bit of a mystery. While they might be interested in the career, they might actually know very little aside from what they’ve heard from friends or seen in movies.
In reality, being an air traffic controller is a great career. It pays well, offers great benefits, and gives you the chance to have a job that makes a difference in the world.
Like most jobs, being an air traffic controller isn’t for everyone. It might be the best job in the world for one person and the worst job imaginable for another person.
For that reason, we’ve put this short quiz together to help you decide if this is career worth pursuing for you.
So, take a few minutes to read through these questions and answer them honestly. At the end of the quiz we’ll include some information for next steps to take if you want to learn more about becoming an air traffic controller.
Question 1: Do you meet the job requirements?
Not everyone meets the requirements to be an air traffic controller. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has some strict qualifications you’ll have to meet.
Here is a basic list of what they require:
- Be a United States citizen
- Be 30 years old or younger
- Pass the medical exam
- Pass security background check
- Pass FAA pre-employment test
- Be willing to re-locate to be near a facility you are assigned to
- Meet FAA educational requirements
If you would like a more detailed look at these requirements, take a look at our full article on the topic below.
Question 2: Do you handle stress well?
Being an air traffic controller is considered a very stressful job. In fact, many consider it one of the most stressful jobs in the world.
The reason for this is the severe implications of the work you do. You are helping guide aircraft throughout the day. Making a mistake can lead to a dangerous situation for the passengers and crew aboard the flights you are helping direct.
This isn’t something most people can take lightly as it literally creates life and death situations.
While many who do the job every day have gotten used to the stress and pressure, it is something you should prepare yourself for.
Question 3: Can you focus at a desk for long periods of time?
Much of the job of an air traffic controller is done while sitting at a workstation.
Since you will be helping guide aircraft, you’ll be using a variety of software on computers and communications devices to perform job functions.
This includes watching airplanes on radar systems, talking to people on the radio, making telephone calls, and more.
Some people really like sitting at a desk focusing on their work, while others would much prefer to be up and around doing their job. Being an air traffic controller is definitely better suited to someone who likes to sit at a desk and focus on tasks.
Question 4: Are you extremely detail oriented?
Being an air traffic controller requires you to be very detail oriented. There is a lot of information that you are tracking and reacting to as you do your job.
Every decision you make impacts flights (and the people aboard those flights) so it’s very important that you can focus on small details.
This job can be so intense that it even requires you to take a break once every few hours. This helps prevent the mental fatigue that can kick in from hours of intense focus on these details.
Question 5: Do you want a career that makes a difference?
Air traffic controllers serve a very important role in the aviation industry. It is thanks to the hard work of these men and women that flights are guided safely from one destination to another.
For some people, making a difference at work every day isn’t as important as factors like money, schedule, or convenience. In the case of most air traffic controllers, this is usually not true. They routinely take on a job that is more challenging and stressful than most.
One of the reasons they are willing to do this is the satisfaction of helping people and making a difference in the world.
If playing a role in the safety of thousands of people every time you go to work is something that motivates you, then this might be the perfect job for you.
Question 6: How much money do you expect to make?
The average air traffic controller makes around $120,000 per year. Since you would also be a federal employee you would also qualify for some pretty great benefits.
The salary ATC’s earn is well above the average pay in the United States and when coupled with the benefits package should allow you to earn a great living. That being said, if you are looking for a career that pays several hundred thousand per year (or more) you might need to look elsewhere.
It’s always best to know what to expect from a pay standpoint before you pursue a career, so make sure that your salary expectations match up with what air traffic controllers make.
Question 7: Can you work non-traditional hours?
Being an air traffic controller is not a traditional job from a scheduling perspective. You most likely will not get to work Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
This is because airports need ATC’s at all times of the day and night. This includes weekends and holidays too.
While the exact hours of your facility and your schedule might vary, you can expect that at some point you will have to work nights, weekends, and holidays.
As you gain experience and seniority, you will be able to make schedule requests. Depending on what the staffing needs are at your facility and how long you’ve been there, you might be able to have a more traditional schedule once you have some experience.
So. if you are ok with working a non-traditional schedule then this won’t be an issue for you. However, if you are looking for a strict 8-5 job, then being an air traffic controller might not be for you.
*Related: Air Traffic Controller Schedules
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into becoming an air traffic controller. It takes a certain type of person to have the focus, drive, and attention to detail to do the job. While it isn’t for everyone, it is a fantastic career for those that it is a good fit for.
If you would like to learn more about becoming an air traffic controller, you can visit the FAA’s website on the topic to learn more and hopefully take the next step.