What Factors Affect the Salary of an Air Traffic Controller?

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  • Written By: K. Kinsella
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 04 December 2019
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The salary of an air traffic controller is impacted by a variety of factors that include the individual's academic credentials, work experience, job location and specific responsibilities. In most countries, air traffic controllers are government employees and some of these individuals are employed by branches of the military. While specific responsibilities may vary, air traffic controllers are ultimately responsible for ensuring that aircraft are able to safely take-off and land at particular airports, or other locations.

In most instances, air traffic controllers must have completed a college degree in aerospace engineering or a related topic. The salary of an air traffic controller may vary based upon the college that the individual attended since some employers pay a premium to recruit graduates from major universities. Additionally, some universities offer postgraduate degree programs and those who complete such programs are typically able to command higher salaries than their counterparts.

Civil aviation regulatory authorities in many countries administer air traffic controller training classes and people within the agency's jurisdiction must complete one of these courses before seeking employment as a controller. Training courses are more rigorous in some countries than others and salaries of qualified controllers are adjusted accordingly. Some training courses prepare students to work at low volume airports while others are aimed at preparing people to work at major international hubs. The depth of the training eventually affects the individual's salary.


Like many employers, airport operators often award salary increases to seasoned employees. Since new recruits have to work under the direction of senior employees, veteran controllers are usually paid more than their junior counterparts. While the salary of an air traffic controller is directly impacted by the individual's experience level, salaries can also be negatively impacted if controllers have a history of making mistakes. Regulatory agencies in many countries have the ability to suspend error prone controllers and details of past mistakes often prevent such individuals from moving into higher paying roles.

The cost of living varies from country to country but even within one nation, day-to-day expenses are much higher in some areas than others. Therefore, the salary of an air traffic controller depends in part on where the controller is based. Additionally, some remote airports have to pay higher than average wages to attract qualified controllers.

Both small and large airports employ controllers and the salary of these individuals depends partly upon their work volume. Some small airports only have a small number of flights per day in which case the controller may be employed on a part-time basis. Major airports employ full-time controllers some of whom have to work during the night. In many instances, employers pay higher wages to controllers who have to work long shifts and those who work the night shift.


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