Job description

Air traffic controllers liaise closely with pilots and other aviation professionals to monitor and manage airspaces and airport runways, identify potential hazards, and ensure collision risks are minimised. It is a technical and complex role with zero margin for error and can, therefore, be highly demanding.


    • Monitor and regulate air traffic within a given jurisdiction
    • Communicate closely with pilots to stay abreast of developments
    • Liaise with other aviation personnel to ensure the smooth management of multiple flights
    • Monitor current and future weather conditions
    • Manage landing and take-off schedules at airports in real time
    • Identify potential hazards or problems and take preventative action
    • Alert response teams in event of emergencies or safety concerns
    • Work with pilots to identify most effective flight paths and routes

Skills and qualities

Decision making
Attention to detail
Stress tolerance

Job outlook

Projected growth
The projected growth rate of employment in the US from 2016 to 2026, based on data collected through the BLS Employment Projections (EP) programme. The national average growth rate for all professions is 7%.


New jobs
The number of jobs projected to become available in the US between 2016 and 2026, based on data collected through the BLS Employment Projections (EP) programme.


Automation risk
The probability of computerisation, based on data published in ‘The Future of Employment’, a 2013 working paper by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne.


Career progression

Once qualified and with significant experience (at least 8 to 10 years), air traffic controllers can progress into management roles and act as a supervisor to junior air traffic controllers. Alternatively, it is possible to move into other related aviation roles, such as consulting for an aviation safety body or an air accident investigation unit.

Working conditions

Average hours

40h/ week

Typical schedule

Shift Work

Days, evenings, weekends and holidays

Air traffic controllers work either at central Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sites or at airports, within air traffic control towers. Due to the high levels of concentration required, frequent breaks are compulsory, with most controllers working ‘sessions’ of 90 minutes followed by a mandatory 30-minute break.


Bottom 10%




Top 10%


Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.

Qualifications and training

Education level


No formal education required

Study time

5 months

Selection for air traffic controllers is based primarily on aptitude, which is assessed during an intense and progressive selection process. Candidates must also possess either 3 years of responsible work experience or a bachelor’s degree, as well as be a US citizen and under the age of 30 at the time of applying.

Upon successful completion of training, a probation period of between two to four years is required in order to become fully certified.

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 2, 2022

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