Career Highlight Air Traffic Control Specialist

Career Highlight: Air Traffic Control Specialist

Each minute of every hour, an elite group of men and women are working to keep the national airspace system safe and efficient. Over 14,000 air traffic control specialists guide pilots, their planes, and the 2.7 million passengers that travel by air. 


In 2020, the median salary for air traffic control specialists was $130,420. This six-figure salary requires extensive training and demanding work tasks. Most salaries for entry-level specialists increase as they complete new levels of training. The annual salary for advanced controllers varies with the location of the facility, complexity of the airspace, and other factors. 


The FAA has several requirements for applying for an air traffic control position. Candidates typically need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program or equivalent program. Graduates of AT-CTI can bypass the first five weeks of qualification training at the FAA’s training center in Oklahoma City. 


All entry-level applicants must complete training at the training center in Oklahoma City and gain on-the-job experience before they qualify to become certified professional controllers. The FAA’s application requirements are as follows:

  • Be a US citizen 

  • Be ages 30 or younger on the closing date of the application period

  • Pass a medical exam

  • Pass a security investigation

  • Pass FAA air traffic pre-employment test

  • Speak English clearly enough to be understood over communications equipment

  • Possess three years of “progressively responsible” work experience, or a Bachelor’s degree, or a combination of post-secondary education and three years of work experience

  • Be willing to relocate


Job Tasks

Air traffic control specialists have several responsibilities. Job tasks include informing pilots of nearby planes or potentially hazardous conditions such as weather, speed, the direction of the wind, or visibility problems. ATC specialists also issue landing and takeoff instructions or authorizations. They transfer control of departing flights to traffic control centers and accept control of arriving flights. Additionally, ATC specialists provide flight path changes or directions to emergency landing fields for pilots traveling in bad weather or emergency situations. Finally, ATC specialists alert airport emergency personnel in case of emergency or when aircraft are experiencing difficulties. 


The work of an air traffic control specialist is of serious nature. Because of this, the training regimen and proficiencies needed are demanding and the job competition is fierce. Initial selection by the FAA for training does not guarantee placement into federal civilian service. 


Don’t let the fierce competition dissuade you from pursuing this rewarding career. Air traffic control specialists are vital to the safety and efficiency of our national airspace system. Hinds Community College offers a wonderful air traffic control collegiate program for Mississippians aspiring to an aviation career. 


The most recent hiring window to work as an FAA-certified air traffic controller has closed. You can follow the FAA on Twitter for updates on the next application period.