How do I Become an Air Traffic Controller?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 February 2020
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An air traffic controller ensures that commercial and private airplanes are kept safe and on course to their destinations at all times. The work of a professional air traffic controller is often fast-paced, stressful, and demanding, and requires an individual to possess a strong character and a lot of confidence. A person who wants to become an air traffic controller is usually required to complete extensive educational and training requirements, as well as pass both written and practical certification exams. Requirements vary by location, but most countries expect a new professional to spend at least six years in classroom and practical training settings before he or she can become an air traffic controller.

An individual who wants to become an air traffic controller in the United States is usually required to obtain a four-year bachelor's degree from a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) accredited university, or combine college work with practical experience in an aviation facility. Students typically receive classroom instruction on physics, aeronautics, and computer science, as well as hands-on training with flight simulators and actual air traffic control equipment. Most other countries rely on government agencies similar to the FAA to provide education and training to prospective air traffic controllers.


Upon graduation, the most successful students are awarded the opportunity to take pre-employment exams in order to gain eligibility for advanced training and entry-level jobs. The pre-employment test is a comprehensive, computer-based exam that can take up to eight hours to complete. An individual who passes the test and receives strong recommendations from his or her school is allowed to apply for jobs and attend a 12-week training program at an FAA academy. During training, a new air traffic controller learns about different FAA regulations and procedures, practices on simulators, and becomes more familiar with equipment.

An person who has completed training at the FAA academy can begin working as an assistant or apprentice to an established air traffic controller. He or she may spend up to four years gaining on-the-job training and experience before gaining certification. A person who demonstrates his or her abilities in practical settings and periodic written exams is usually able to officially become an air traffic controller and begin working unsupervised.

In addition to training requirements, it is important for an individual to possess a number of important character traits to become an air traffic controller. A person must be confident, good at making quick decisions and solving problems, a strong communicator, and an effective leader. A prospective air traffic controller needs to possess strong organizational skills and a keen eye for detail in order to keep planes and passengers safe at all times. He or she must be alert, motivated, and wholly committed to the job.


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