So, You Want To Be An Air Traffic Controller?

Did you know that Air Traffic Controllers positions receive some of the highest pay rankings in the United States?

No wonder so many people wish to pursue a career in ATC. Not only is it a challenging and important job, but it pays pretty well too. ATC’s in the U.S have been quoted as making over $130,000 a year. Not too shabby for a career that requires less then 2 years of education to land a fairly impressive salary.

As the aviation industry continues to expand there are many new job opportunities for Air Traffic Controllers opening up worldwide. It seems like now is the time to begin learning more about what it will take to become an ATC.

Perhaps, it is the dream career in aviation that you have been looking for?

Becoming an ATC isn’t all just fun, games and a hot salary. The truth about Air Traffic Control is that it is a job that many people want- but only a select few can handle. In fact, the reason why ATC controllers are paid so well is become their job can be extremely taxing on the psyche of an individual and requires a person with some very distinct characteristics. In order to be successful one must have a lot of self-control, mental endurance and patience. It is also important that you can pay attention to refined detail and are mature enough to handle the pressure and stresses of your job. 

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What Do Air Traffic Controllers Do?

  • Regulate air traffic either within an airport’s airspace or air traffic between airports.

  • Communicate weather changes, visibility issues, wind conditions, and nearby aircraft pilots using radar, computers and or visuals to monitor aircrafts in the assigned airspace.

  • Give landing and departure authorization and instructions.

  • Determine flight path changes if necessary.

  • Supervise ground traffic, such as baggage vehicles, airport workers and taxiing airplanes.

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You’re Either Born One, Or You Aren’t

Is a career in Air Traffic Control right for you? What are some of the characteristics that an Air Traffic Controller must posses?

Emotional stability, excellent memory, and the ability to pay close attention to detail are certainly vital to a successful career as an ATC.

If you do not know this already, Air Traffic Controllers regulate the flow of air traffic within airports in the airspace between stops. It is their job to communicate any changes in weather, visibility issues, possible wind conditions and other phenomena to aircraft pilots. They have to work diligently to monitor the air conditions and communicate any potential hazards by using radars, high tech computing systems and visual indicators in order to keep everyone in the air safe. As you can see, Air Traffic Control is an important job with it’s own fair set of challenges.

High Stress Tolerance

Professional ATC operators deal with a great deal of stressful scenarios on a daily basis. In many ways they are responsible for the individuals who are flying within the airspace that they are responsible for monitoring both the pilots and the passengers rely on the skills of the Air Traffic Controllers to help them travel and land safely. If the individual managing the ATC makes even the smallest mistake the consequences could be tragic. They need to know how to make logical decisions to help relieve air traffic conflicts, while also managing the sequences and routing the flights. The day-to-day work of an air traffic controller requires an individual who is emotional stable in order to cope with the extreme pressure and taxing situations that they may find themselves in.

In the last five years, there has been some progress made to help reduce some of the Observing Air Traffic Control systemstressors that ATC operators are regularly exposed to. Many airlines have began implementing new policies and protocols to help eliminate some of the controllable stress factors, while also introducing regular physiological treatment for Air Traffic Controllers to help them cope better with the magnitude of their responsibilities. Everything from the conditions that the ATC’s work in to the length of their breaks and scheduling are being re-evaluated in order to make the work conditions of these important individuals a bit less chaotic. However, even with additional accommodations by their employer’s people who have the self-control and patience to become Air Traffic Controllers are few and far between. It just takes a certain kind of individual to be able to handle that much intense pressure every single day while still performing at their best.

Outstanding Memory

Having the ability to easily recall facts and figures is another important quality that a professional ATC must possess. This is because ATC operators are expected to be Air-Traffic-Controller-Control-Centerable to remember a large variety of technical abbreviations and terms. These need to be memorized so that an ATC can act quickly and recite them to the pilots in a hazardous situation. Imagine, doing this in an emergency situation with the lives of innocent people relying on you. It is important that you know the protocol by heart so you can give proper instruction on a moments notice. Ideally, you need to be able to quote the acronyms as if they are a second language; NOTAM (a notice containing information concerning the establishment, condition, or change in any of the components like facility, service, procedure, or hazard in the National Airspace System) or MINIT (minutes in trail, a specified interval between aircraft expressed in time). These sorts of terms and definitions must be stored away in the memory of the Air Traffic Controller on duty so that they can recollect them at a moments notice without any mistakes. The good news is, many ATC’s work in pairs just in case on of them has a memory lapse. They also regularly review their notes and study so that they can keep the procedures fresh in their minds.

Detail Oriented

Air Traffic Controllers must be technically minded and always pay attention to detail” Never assume, always determine” is a popular quotation amongst many ATC’s with years of experience. However, over the years as airlines have become more relaxed with reprehending and punishing ATC’s who have made mistakes, more errors have been documented. Once, the airlines stopped punishing Air Traffic Controllers for making errors and began to improve their working conditions in order to prevent errors from occurring under stress.

As of 2012, missed detail oriented incidents have actually doubled! Experts believe air-traffic-control-detailed-oriented-mapbecause the FAA began encouraging the Air Traffic Controllers to come forward with their mistakes without fear of punishment For this reason, it is safe to assume that the diligence of the operators hasn’t changed, only their honesty about the errors. This may sound a little bit iffy, but the real good news is- most Air Traffic Control errors do not lead fatal incidents, because many of the ATC workers are quick to action and correct their mistakes before anyone gets hurt. This just goes to show, the importance of being steadfast and dedicated to the job when you work as an Air Traffic Controller, not only do you need to be honest when you make a mistake but you need to be quick to correct yourself if you do not want anyone to get hurt!

Could You Be An Air Traffic Controller?
Some may argue that the increase in close calls and near incidents can be attributed to the stress that these ATC workers are under every single day. Like we mentioned above the airlines are doing what they can to improve the working conditions for these individuals but only time will tell if the improvement in working environment really make a difference.

When you look critically at the life of an individual who has chose to take up the ATC occupation you must admire them for their ambition. There aren’t a lot of people who could do what they do without nearly losing their minds. Once thing is for certain, if you are determined to become an Air Traffic Controller when you grow up there are a few characteristics such as patience, perfect memory, and attention span that you are just going to have to be born with because they cannot be taught. You’ll have to be passionate about your work and determined to succeed if you wish to make it as a certified Air Traffic Controller.

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