Home Jobs & Education What is the Average Air Traffic Controller Salary?

If you are interested in a career in aviation, you should know that the average salary of an air traffic controller ranges from $81,327 to $122,530 per year, with 10% earning less than $64,930 and 10% earning more than $171,340.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage was $122,530 in May 2012, while a starting salary for controllers after training was $34,750 at the same date.

 What Does an Air Traffic Controller Do?

To put it simple, air traffic controllers are in charge of aviation safety.

Challenging, exciting, and extremely satisfying are just a few terms used to describe the job of an aviation employee. Every day more than 87,000 flights are guided across US by federal controllers.

For those interested to apply for such positions, there are a few minimum requirements but no air traffic experience is needed as you will be given training by FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).

Air Traffic Controller Salary & Job Outlook

Average air traffic controller salary $81,327 – $122,530 per year
Starting salary as for 2015 $36,254
Experience needed None
Training & certifications On-the-job-training
Number of jobs in 2012 25,000
Employment outlook 2012-2022 + 400 jobs
Work time 40 hours per week in shifts

120627-N-NR998-919  ATLANTIC OCEAN (June 27, 2012) Air-Traffic Controller 2nd Class Karina Reid operates the SPN-43 air search radar system while standing approach control aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). Wasp is participating in the War of 1812 fleet exercise, a week-long multi-national exercise involving 19 ships from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Brazil, and Portugal, and is designed to increase interoperability with allied nations, improve tactical prowess and certification of participating units. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Petty Officer 2nd Class Gretchen M. Albrecht/Released)

ATLANTIC OCEAN (June 27, 2012) Air-Traffic Controller 2nd Class Karina Reid operates the SPN-43 air search radar system

Just to get an idea, in order to become an air traffic controller in USA you need to be a United States citizen younger than 31, have three years of general work experience or a Bachelor’s degree, and pass a few examinations such as medical and psychological and pre-employment tests.  Clear verbal communication is also essential as you need to be understood over communication equipment.

There are several types of air traffic controllers:

  • Tower controllers: Their job is to direct vehicles on runways and taxiways, to check flight plans, and give pilots clearance for takeoff or landing. In order to achieve this, they must be fully aware of flight plans. They are called ‘tower controllers’ as most of them work from control towers to have a clear view over the traffic they are in charged.
  • Approach and departure controllers: ensure the safety of planes while on airport’s airspace. They have to make sure aircraft do not enter each other’s airspace and work in semi dark rooms in buildings called Terminal Radar Approach Control Centers where they use radar equipment to monitor flights. Their main job is also to communicate weather conditions and other vital information to aviators.
  • En route controllers: are in control of aircraft leaving an airport’s airspace. The centers they monitor aircrafts are usually not located within airports, working in traffic control centers throughout the country.
  • Navy air traffic controllers: have tasks similar to civilian air traffic controllers, but their duty implies many more risks. Naval aviation is the toughest career one can choose in this field. As their job is military these air force specialists work in naval aviation facilities, including airfields in war zones. Their job is to help pilots follow their flight plans as to avoid any collisions.

What are the Tasks of an Air Traffic Controller?

To summarize what a controller does, here are the main tasks they have to perform on a daily basis:

  • Monitor and direct planes both on the ground and in the air
  • Use special equipment such as radars and computers
  • Help pilots plot their flight plans, issuing schedules and landing, plus takeoff instructions
  • Control airport traffic, including all vehicles and workers on the ground
  • Provide pilots with critical information, such as weather conditions, runaway closures and other updates
  • Prevent accidents and delays
  • Manage emergencies by alerting the airport response staff

Practically, air traffic controllers are trained to control the skies. Every day, there are more than 15,000 controllers on the job and there are 20 federal air traffic facilities all over USA.

What is the Entry-Level Average Air Traffic Controller Salary?

If we have a look at the pay chart for March 2015, the average wages haven’t changed over the last three years, but an increase can be observed as regards the after-training payment. If in 2012 an air traffic controller at the beginning of his/ her career earned $34,750 per year, in 2015 this salary reached an average of $36,254.

According to FAA’s official website though, pay levels for those who completed training vary depending on criteria such as job performance, facility location, career path and other certifications.

How Much Does an Air Traffic Controller Work?

Most air traffic specialists work 40 hours per week, while some of them take additional hours too. Their schedule varies though as they are required to work overnight or take weekend and holiday shifts. Usually they rotate shifts between day, evening, and night.

As a work pattern, every 90 to 120 minutes of work they get a 30 minutes break.

Controller’s work is continuous, that is why teamwork, trustworthiness and dedication are at the core of their profile. These also represent unofficial requirements expected to be fulfilled by people looking for a career in FAA.

What Are the Benefits Air Traffic Controllers Receive?

According to FAA, the benefits package available for air traffic control specialists includes: health insurance, life insurance, retirement benefits, as well as participation in the federal Thrift Savings Plan.

Interesting facts

According to statistics, the aviation career path is more appealing to men than to women.  Stratified by gender, there are 7% of females working as air traffic controllers, while the majority is male.

Job Prospects

As regards employment opportunities in the US aviation field for the next 5 years, prospects are not very favorable as most job opportunities are projected to address to experienced applicants able to replace employees who retire. Good news is that FAA does not intend to reduce the number of jobs until 2022, but the budget may limit training and hiring new personnel.

If you wish to apply for a job in aviation administration prepare for tough competition. What would definitely favor your application are a proof of prior experience and your willingness to relocate. From this point of view, take note that payment varies depending on facility locations as well.

Good luck!

Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons, Wikimedia

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Georgette Movilé

Poetry lover and jazz addict, Georgette Movilé enjoys writing about art-related topics. With a background in Theatre and Literary Studies, once dreaming to be part of the ‘academia’, she now has a keen interest in cultural journalism and develops a great passion for arts management. Her style and taste are eclectic and she calls herself a hedonist open to, and ready to make the most of, the dazzling possibilities within the everyday. Want to meet the most starry-eyed-down-to-earth person you might ever encounter? Read her articles, get inspired and feel free to contact her.


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