What You Can Expect to Make as an Air Traffic Controller

air traffic controller

Working in an airport isn’t all about flying high, security stops, and dealing with customers. Air traffic controllers have a vital job, out of the limelight and away from the crowds. It’s a pretty cushy job if that’s your style. So, what can you expect to make as an air traffic controller? We’ll walk you through everything you need to know.

What Do Air Traffic Controllers Do

Air traffic controllers have to be mentally quick and good at multitasking. To manage multiple craft touching down and departing accurately and in a timely manner, this is one job that requires focus and good reflexes. You’ll also need a superb grasp of proper radio etiquette to talk to all the pilots. To maintain an orderly and functional airport, all the planes need to move along a limited number of paths. Planes are complex, whether it’s going in for maintenance, getting refueled, taxiing in to drop off passengers and luggage, departing with a full load, or more than one of these. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Air Traffic Controllers “…manage the flow of aircraft into and out of the airport airspace, guide pilots during takeoff and landing, and monitor aircraft as they travel through the skies.” Not only is Air Traffic Control vital to the individual airport, but it also affects travel nationally and internationally. A flight path isn’t always a simple point a to point b operation. Delays, weather issues, and problems inside the airport will all change your options, so flexibility is a must. A good air traffic controller is indispensable, while a bad one could cause significant problems for numerous flights.

How Do You Become An Air Traffic Controller

There is more than one way to become an Air Traffic Controller. The most common is to get an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree from the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative program. However, some people in this position worked their way up with a minimum of three years of progressive relevant experience, four years of college in another field, or both.

Air Traffic Controllers and Liability

Some jobs, like doctors and drivers, need special liability insurance. Meanwhile, others such as chefs and teachers don’t generally have the same concerns and are rarely held personally responsible for problems as long as they conduct themselves professionally. What about Air Traffic Controllers? Do you need special insurance to direct and monitor flights? The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might hope. The Chicago Convention essentially says that individual states are responsible for keeping airports accountable to the standards of their time and providing for generally smooth and appropriate operation of other air navigation facilities to facilitate international air navigation. States have sovereignty over their own airspace. According to inquiries journal, Air Traffic Controllers must possess, “…a unique training and particular skills … such as having good spatial orientation and situational awareness, have an excellent memory, the ability to make rapid and firm decisions and being able to stay calm under high pressure.”

However, they are also responsible for preventing collisions. To complicate matters further, an aircraft crew can disregard what the controller tells them if the collision avoidance equipment on board the aircraft (TCAS) shows conflicting information. Prior to the Federal Tort Claim Act (FTCA) of 1944, Air Traffic Controllers could easily be held personally liable in court if problems arose due to their job performance. After 1945, the states and US government can be held accountable instead, except in some cases where they have immunity. There is no special personal liability insurance for doing the Air Traffic Control job. However, there is no specific guarantee that a person in this profession won’t be held liable for doing their job wrong. Air Traffic Controllers need nerves of steel and self-confidence to match.

Median Salary For Air Traffic Controllers

Let’s start by looking at the worst-case scenario for a paycheck in this profession. The lowest ten percent of earners in the Air Traffic Controller field take home around seventy to seventy-two thousand dollars. On the opposite end of that spectrum are the highest-paid pros with the most experience and education. The top ten percent of Air Traffic Controllers take home over a hundred and eighty-four thousand dollars annually. That’s a lot of money for a job you can technically get without a degree. However, that also likely only includes the people living where the cost of living is at its highest, so Hawaii, Alaska, California, and similar areas. The median salary for an Air Traffic Controller in May of 2020 was $130,420.

Is It Worth Becoming An Air Traffic Controller

To decide whether becoming an Air Traffic Controller is right for you, you’ll need to ask some hard questions and answer honestly. Do you want a job with vital responsibilities? Can you handle hours of focused vigilance? Are you willing to be responsible for the lives of large groups of people? How well do you do under pressure? Do you want to make great money with relatively minimal schooling? How good is your spatial and situational awareness? Becoming an Air Traffic Controller is not an easy path. It’s not a lazy or cushy job, but there are a lot of rewards for doing it right. For some people, the substantial median salary is not enough to make up for the stress, but this is a dream job with excellent take-home pay to match for the right type of person.

Final Thoughts

Air Traffic Controllers deal with a lot more stress and uncertainty than most professions. However, they are essential to the function of airports, world travel, and commerce as we know it. If being responsible for hundreds or thousands of lives daily without getting shot at or bled on sounds good to you, then this might be the ideal rewarding career. Plus, the salary is nothing to sneeze at since you could easily pull in more than a million dollars in your first decade.

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