Air Traffic Controllers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Because it is highly recommended for all air traffic controllers to have a college degree, high school students interested in the field will be best prepared by pursuing a college prep curriculum. Mathematics and science courses are most directly related to air traffic control work.

Postsecondary Training

To become an air traffic controller, a person must have completed a college degree and three years of work experience, or have completed an aviation-related program in the FAA's Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI). There are currently 30 schools in the AT-CTI program with enrollment open to new students. Visit for a list of schools. All candidates (except those with prior air traffic control experience) must also pass a preemployment test that gauges their aptitude for the career. Entry to civil aviation is also possible through the military.

Those who complete an AT-CTI program of study become eligible to enroll in a two-month training course at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City. There they receive training in the fundamentals of the airway systems, civil air regulations, radar, and aircraft performance characteristics. They practice using software designed to simulate emergency situations to determine their emotional stability under pressure. The standards for those who successfully complete this program are very high; about 50 percent of the trainees are dropped during this period. Those who complete the program are guaranteed jobs with the FAA.

Other Education or Training

The Air Traffic Control Association offers workshops, seminars, and other continuing education (CE) opportunities at its annual conference and exhibition and its technical symposium. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association also hosts an annual conference, where CE workshops and seminars are available. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Training continues on the job, and new controllers also receive classroom instruction. Depending on the size and complexity of the facility, a new hire may require between two and four years to become a fully certified air traffic controller. Controllers must be certified at each progressive level of air traffic control, usually within a certain period of time. Failure to be certified within the time limit is grounds for dismissal. Air traffic controllers are also required to pass annual physical exams and performance reviews.

Other Requirements

Applicants for airport tower or en route traffic control jobs must be 30 years of age or younger, pass physical and psychological examinations, be U.S. citizens, and have vision that is or can be corrected to 20/20. Flight service stations will accept applicants who are over the age of 30.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Aspiring air traffic controllers must have a college degree and three years of aviation-related work experience, or have completed an aviation-related program. Several years of on-the-job experience is necessary to become a certified controller.

Those hoping to enter the field must be articulate, have a good memory, and show self-control. It is imperative that they be able to express themselves clearly, remember rapidly changing data that affect their decisions, and be able to operate calmly under very difficult situations involving a great deal of strain. They must also be able to make good, sound, and quickly derived decisions. A poor decision may mean the loss of a large number of lives.