Control air traffic on and within the area around an airport, and movement of air traffic between altitudes and control centers, according to established procedures and policies. Work typically in the control tower for airports. Direct and communicate with incoming and outbound planes for smooth travel. Authorize, regulate, and control commercial airline flights according to government or company regulations to expedite and ensure flight safety. (Note: The FAA has an upper age limit of 56 for licensing Air Traffic Controllers, and some education programs have a maximum age of 30 to begin.)
Make a Difference
A Typical Day
- Inform pilots about traffic conflicts, terrain, or potentially hazardous conditions, such as weather and visibility problems, birds, icing, strong winds, and turbulence.
- Issue landing and take-off clearances, altitude and speed assignments, vectors, and other control instructions.
- Transfer control of aircraft along their route of flight to the next sector or facility by performing required coordination and issuing frequency changes.
- Provide flight plan changes for aircraft requiring a reroute for weather or volume into a given airport. Some of these routes are given nicknames, such as Snowbird routes into Florida or Ski Country routes into Colorado for the typical uptick in seasonal traffic.
- Implement Traffic Management programs that are organized by the Command Center, located in Washington D.C., which include Metering, Ground Stops, and Expect Departure Clearance Time (EDCT) programs to keep certain airports from being overloaded.
- Emergency aircraft are given priority handling. Air Traffic Controllers issue directions to emergency landing fields for aircraft in emergency situations.
- Alert airport emergency services in cases of emergency. Firetrucks and other emergency personnel will be standing by to help assist disabled aircraft or passengers with medical emergencies.
- Military or control tower experience OR
- 3 years of work experience OR
- bachelor's degree
Education & Training
Regional employers often hire graduates of these programs.
Northwest Lower Michigan
Aviation Degrees and Certificates
— Northwestern Michigan College
Elsewhere in Michigan
College of Aviation
— Western Michigan University
Explore This Career
Try it before you buy it!
Realistic online air traffic control games can give you an idea of what this job is like. Then make it real - try talking with your local airport and see if you can have a conversation with one of their air traffic controllers.
The Local Advantage Learning Pathway
Get involved with local aviation clubs or attend aviation-related events, such as Young Eagles for an introductory flight or as a club member, age 8 - 17.
FAA recruiting gamers for next generation of air traffic controllers, Individuals (gamers) aged 18 to 30 are in high demand!
Contact one of these companies and ask for an informational interview, to see if you can job shadow, or to find out if they hire interns.
Sample Job Titles...
- Air Traffic Control Specialist (ATCS)
- Air Traffic Controller (ATC)
- Certified Professional Controller (CPC)
- Enroute Air Traffic Controller (Enroute ATC)
Hear It From The Pros
- Applicants must apply to an open bid put out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for Air Traffic Controllers at USAjobs.gov. It is a good idea to follow the FAA on social media to see when those bids are open.
- Qualified applicants are put through initial testing, and those who score high are selected for the FAA Academy, located in Oklahoma City, OK
- Applicants are assigned either Tower, TRACON, or ARTCC, and must pass the initial training at the FAA Academy before being sent to a facility according to the FAA's staffing needs throughout the United States
- Most training is accomplished on-the-job once the applicant is at their assigned facility. This will consist of a combination of classroom, simulation, and live traffic training, where the developmental controller is plugged into position with a fully certified professional controller (CPC).
10-Year Job Growth Projections
Wage Range & Median U.S.
Annual Hires Regionally
Real World Career Pathways
It doesn't have to be a straight shot! Hear from people who have taken unique pathways.