Air Traffic Controllers Certification Requirements and Hiring Process

Jan 15, 2024

15 Min Read

1. What are the minimum educational requirements for becoming an air traffic controller?

To become an air traffic controller, you must have a high school diploma or equivalent. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also prefers candidates with some college coursework or a bachelor’s degree.

2. Is there a specific degree that is required to become an air traffic controller?

No, there is not a specific degree that is required. However, earning a degree in aviation or a related field can provide valuable knowledge and skills that would be beneficial for an air traffic controller.

3. What subjects should I study in high school if I want to become an air traffic controller?

Strong skills in math and science are important for becoming an air traffic controller. Additionally, studying subjects such as geography, physics, and computer science may also be helpful in preparing for this career.

4. Are there any physical requirements for becoming an air traffic controller?

Yes, there are certain physical requirements that must be met in order to become an air traffic controller. These include having good vision and hearing with or without corrective lenses, being able to pass a medical exam, and having the ability to stand for long periods of time.

5. How do I apply to become an air traffic controller?

To apply to become an air traffic controller, you can visit the FAA website and search for open positions. Typically, the application process involves completing an online application, taking tests and assessments, attending interviews and background checks, and completing training at the FAA Academy.

2. Is prior military experience necessary for this career?

No, prior military experience is not necessary for this career. Many cybersecurity professionals come from diverse backgrounds and receive their training through various education programs and certifications. However, some job positions within government agencies or defense contractors may prefer candidates with prior military experience. Ultimately, a candidate’s skills, education, and experience in the field are more important factors in securing a job in cybersecurity.

3. How is the certification process for air traffic controllers structured?

The certification process for air traffic controllers is structured in several stages, including initial training and ongoing evaluation.

Stage 1: Initial Training
The first stage of the certification process is initial training. This typically takes place at an FAA-approved training facility or academy. During this phase, trainees learn about air traffic control procedures, rules and regulations, aircraft characteristics and performance, communication techniques, and other essential skills needed to become an air traffic controller.

Stage 2: Basic Qualification Training
After completing initial training, trainees move on to basic qualification training. This usually takes place at an air traffic control facility where they will be working. They receive hands-on experience under the supervision of certified controllers and continue to learn about specific procedures and technologies used at their assigned facility.

Stage 3: On-the-Job Training
Once the basic qualification training is completed, trainees begin on-the-job training (OJT). OJT consists of working closely with experienced controllers while performing actual air traffic control duties. Controllers-in-training must complete a certain number of hours of OJT before they can be certified.

Stage 4: Certification Evaluation
After completing all required hours of OJT, controllers undergo a certification evaluation. This is a series of tests that assess their knowledge, skills, and ability to perform all necessary air traffic control duties without supervision. These tests may include simulating various scenarios such as handling multiple flights or dealing with emergency situations.

Step 5: Certification
Upon passing the certification evaluation, trainees become certified controllers and may work unsupervised controlling live air traffic.

Continuing Education and Proficiency Checks
Certified air traffic controllers must also regularly participate in continuing education courses and proficiency checks to maintain their certifications. These activities ensure that controllers are up-to-date on any changes or updates in procedures or technology and remain proficient in their job duties.

4. Are there specific age requirements for applying to become an air traffic controller?

Yes, in the United States, individuals must be at least 18 years old to apply for an air traffic control position. There is no upper age limit to apply, but candidates must meet all other requirements, including passing the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) air traffic pre-employment tests and undergoing a medical examination. In some other countries, such as Canada and the United Kingdom, the minimum age requirement may vary. It is best to check with the specific country’s aviation authority for their age requirements.

5. What kind of training programs are available for aspiring air traffic controllers?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) offers several training programs for aspiring air traffic controllers, including:

1. Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) Program: This program is offered at select colleges and universities and provides students with a combination of academic coursework and practical experience that prepares them for a career in air traffic control.

2. Air Traffic Basics Course: This free online course provided by the FAA introduces participants to the fundamentals of air traffic control and can help them determine if a career in this field is right for them.

3. FAA Academy: This is the main training facility for air traffic controllers and offers a range of courses and programs for different levels of experience, from basic training for new hires to refresher courses for experienced controllers.

4. On-the-Job Training (OJT): After completing initial training at the FAA Academy, newly hired controllers go through several months of OJT, where they work under the supervision of experienced controllers to gain hands-on experience in live air traffic control situations.

5. Additional specialized training: The FAA also offers additional specialized training programs for controllers who want to advance their skills or work in specific areas such as radar control, tower control, or terminal control.

6. Continuous learning opportunities: To keep up with changes in technology and procedures, air traffic controllers are required to participate in continuous learning opportunities throughout their careers, including annual evaluations and ongoing training sessions.

6. Is it possible to become an air traffic controller without a degree in aviation or related field?

Yes, it is possible to become an air traffic controller without a degree in aviation or a related field. The minimum education requirement for becoming an air traffic controller is a high school diploma or equivalent. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) highly recommends that candidates have either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, preferably in a subject such as aviation management, air traffic management, or a related field. Having a degree may give applicants an advantage during the hiring process and can also provide additional knowledge and skills that can be helpful in the role of an air traffic controller.

That being said, individuals without a degree in aviation or a related field can still become air traffic controllers by meeting the other eligibility requirements set by the FAA. These include passing required exams and background checks, completing training at the FAA Academy, and meeting specific age and citizenship requirements. Additionally, candidates who have prior experience in fields such as military air traffic control or aviation can also be considered for employment as air traffic controllers.

Ultimately, while having a degree in aviation or a related field may be beneficial in pursuing a career as an air traffic controller, it is not necessarily required to enter the profession.

7. Are there any physical fitness requirements for this job?

There may be physical fitness requirements for some jobs, particularly those that involve heavy lifting or strenuous physical activity. However, this will depend on the specific job and employer. It is important to carefully review the job description and any requirements listed before applying to ensure you meet the necessary physical capabilities for the position. If unsure, you can always contact the employer directly to inquire about any potential physical fitness requirements.

8. How important is previous work experience in the field of aviation for getting hired as an air traffic controller?

Previous work experience is not necessarily a requirement for a career as an air traffic controller. While previous experience in the aviation industry can be helpful, it is not necessarily a determining factor in the hiring process.

The primary qualifications for becoming an air traffic controller include passing a rigorous training program and meeting certain educational and age requirements. This means that individuals with little or no previous work experience can still be considered for the position.

However, having prior experience in the aviation industry can certainly give applicants an advantage during the application process. For example, individuals who have worked as pilots or in other roles within the aviation industry may have a better understanding of aircraft operations and terminology, which can make it easier to grasp concepts and procedures during training.

Additionally, some employers may prefer candidates with previous experience in a related field because it demonstrates their interest and dedication to the industry. Having relevant experience can also help applicants stand out among other candidates.

Ultimately, while previous work experience can be beneficial for getting hired as an air traffic controller, it is not mandatory and many successful air traffic controllers have started their careers without any prior experience in the field. What matters most is having the necessary qualifications, skills, and aptitude for the job.

9. Can non-citizens apply for air traffic control jobs in the United States?

Yes, non-citizens can apply for air traffic control jobs in the United States. However, they must meet certain requirements and go through a rigorous application process.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), non-citizens must be permanent residents of the United States and possess a valid work authorization document from the Department of Homeland Security. They must also pass a security and background check, as well as meet all other qualifications and requirements set forth by the FAA.

Additionally, non-citizens may be limited in their ability to work at certain facilities or positions within the air traffic control system, as some positions require security clearance or access to sensitive information.

It is important for non-citizens interested in applying for air traffic control jobs in the US to thoroughly research and understand all requirements before starting the application process.

10. What kind of skills and qualities are typically looked for in a potential candidate during the hiring process for this job?

Some common skills and qualities that are often looked for in a potential candidate during the hiring process for a specific job can include:

1. Relevant education and experience: Employers will typically look for candidates who have the necessary education and/or experience to succeed in the role. This can include having a relevant degree, certifications, or previous work experience in a similar position.

2. Technical skills: Depending on the job requirements, employers may also look for specific technical skills, such as proficiency in certain software programs or coding languages.

3. Adaptability and flexibility: In today’s fast-paced work environment, employers value candidates who are adaptable and able to adjust to changing situations quickly.

4. Communication skills: Effective communication is essential in any job, so employers will often look for candidates with strong verbal and written communication skills.

5. Problem-solving abilities: Employers want employees who can think critically and come up with creative solutions to challenges that arise within their role.

6. Time management and organization: Employers seek candidates who can manage their time efficiently and prioritize tasks effectively to meet deadlines and achieve goals.

7. Teamwork: Many jobs require collaboration with others, so being able to work well in a team is an important quality employers look for.

8. Leadership abilities: Depending on the level of the position, employers may also look for leadership qualities in potential candidates, such as the ability to manage a team or take charge of projects.

9. Attention to detail: In some roles, attention to detail may be crucial. Employers will want someone who is meticulous in their work and avoids making careless mistakes.

10. Positive attitude and enthusiasm: Having a positive attitude and enthusiasm for the job can make a candidate stand out during an interview, as it shows their potential employer they will bring energy and passion to their role.

11. Do you need to have excellent vision and hearing abilities to become an air traffic controller?

Yes, excellent vision and hearing abilities are essential for air traffic controllers as they need to constantly monitor and communicate with multiple aircraft both visually and audibly. They must also be able to quickly and accurately recognize aircraft’s position, altitude, and movements on radar screens. Any impairments in vision or hearing can greatly hinder an air traffic controller’s ability to perform their duties effectively and safely.

12. Are there any mental aptitude tests required during the selection process?

It varies depending on the company and the position. Some companies may require candidates to take a mental aptitude test as part of their selection process, especially for positions that require critical thinking, problem-solving, or decision-making skills. These tests are designed to measure a person’s cognitive ability, such as verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, abstract reasoning, and spatial perception. They can be done online or in-person and are used to assess a candidate’s potential job performance.

13. Can individuals with criminal records apply to become air traffic controllers?

Yes, individuals with criminal records can apply to become air traffic controllers. However, certain felony offenses may disqualify an individual from becoming an air traffic controller, as they involve public trust and reliability. Each individual’s case will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, considering the nature and severity of the offense and the amount of time that has passed since the conviction. Individuals with criminal records may also have to undergo additional background checks and provide necessary documentation during the application process. It is recommended that individuals with a criminal record contact the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) directly for more information about their eligibility to become an air traffic controller.

14. What kind of medical exams are required before getting hired as an air traffic controller?

To become an air traffic controller, a candidate must undergo several medical exams to ensure they are physically and mentally fit for the job. These medical exams include:

1. FAA Air Traffic Controller Physical Exam: This is a general physical exam that includes vision acuity, color perception, hearing test, blood pressure, and other basic health assessments.

2. Occupational Health Assessment: This exam assesses potential health risks associated with the air traffic control environment such as noise exposure, radiation exposure (for those working in radar or tower facilities), and repetitive motion injuries.

3. Drug Screening: A pre-employment drug screening is required for all air traffic controllers to ensure a drug-free workplace.

4. Psychological Evaluation: This evaluation assesses the mental and emotional stability of candidates and their ability to handle high-stress situations.

5. Background Check: A thorough background check is conducted to screen for any criminal history or past behaviors that may pose a risk to air traffic safety.

6. FAA Medical Clearance: After passing all the above exams, a candidate will receive clearance from the FAA medical department to begin training as an air traffic controller.

It’s important to note that once hired, air traffic controllers are also required to undergo regular medical evaluations throughout their career to maintain their certification and ensure they remain physically and mentally capable of performing their duties.

15. Is there a specific window of time when applications are accepted for this job?

Typically, application periods for a job are specified in the job posting. It is best to check the posting or contact the hiring manager directly to confirm the deadlines and application period for a specific job.

16. Are there different paths or specialties within the field of air traffic control that one can pursue?

Yes, there are different paths or specialties within the field of air traffic control. These specialties include:

1. Tower air traffic controllers: They are responsible for guiding aircrafts during takeoff, landing, and taxiing on the airport runways.

2. Approach/Departure air traffic controllers: They guide aircraft in and out of the airspace surrounding airports.

3. En Route air traffic controllers: They are responsible for controlling aircrafts during their flight between airports.

4. Radar air traffic controllers: They use radar equipment to monitor and guide aircraft in a specific airspace.

5. Oceanic air traffic controllers: They control and guide aircraft over oceans and international flights.

6. Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) specialists: They are responsible for guiding aircrafts within a specific area around an airport using radar equipment.

7. Flight Data Specialists (FDS): They maintain communication with pilots, receive flight plans, update weather conditions, and provide information to other areas of the facility.

8. Air Traffic Safety Technicians (ATST): They maintain and calibrate navigational aids, such as radars, radios, and instrument landing systems.

9. Management positions: Experienced air traffic controllers can move into management positions where they oversee the work of other controllers and manage operations within a specific facility or region.

10. Training instructors: Highly experienced air traffic controllers can become training instructors who train new recruits or provide continuing education to current controllers.

17. What is the typical timeline from applying to becoming certified as an air traffic controller?

The typical timeline for becoming an air traffic controller can vary, but it generally takes at least 1-2 years. The following is a general outline of the steps involved:

1. Complete a college or FAA-approved air traffic control program: Most air traffic controllers have a degree from an approved program or from the FAA’s Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI).

2. Apply for a job with the FAA: You can apply through USAJOBS when there are open positions. You will need to meet the specific requirements and qualifications for each position.

3. Take the pre-employment test: If you meet the qualifications, you will need to pass the Air Traffic Skills Assessment (ATSA) exam, which includes cognitive and biographical assessments.

4. Complete a medical and security screening: As a safety-sensitive position, you must pass medical and security screenings.

5. Enter the FAA Academy: This is where new air traffic controllers receive classroom instruction before beginning on-the-job training.

6. On-the-job training: After completing academy training, you will receive on-the-job training at an air traffic control facility.

7. Gain experience in different settings: As you gain experience, you may have the opportunity to work at different facilities and in varying types of air traffic control roles.

8. Certification: Once completed all required training and proven competency, you will be certified as an air traffic controller and ready to begin your career as an FAA employee.

18. Are their opportunities for advancement or promotion once you have been hired as an ATC?

Yes, there are opportunities for advancement and promotion within the field of air traffic control. Employees can advance to higher pay grades based on their performance, experience, and completion of additional training or certifications. Additionally, there are opportunities for ATCs to move into leadership or management positions within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

19. How often do ATCs need to undergo recertification or additional training?

ATCs (Athletic Trainers) are required to recertify every two years through the Board of Certification, Inc. This involves completing continuing education courses and passing a certification exam. Some states may also require additional training or specific coursework for license renewal. Additionally, ATCs are expected to stay current with advancements in their field and regularly attend conferences and workshops to maintain their knowledge and skills.

20 Is it possible to transfer between different airports after being hired as an ATC, and if so, how does that process work?

Yes, it is possible to transfer between different airports after being hired as an ATC. The process for this transfer will vary depending on the specific air traffic control facility you are currently working at and the facility you wish to transfer to. Here are some general steps that may be involved in the transferring process:

1. Check your current facility’s policies: Before considering a transfer, it is important to check with your current facility’s management or human resources department about their policies and procedures for transfers. Some facilities may have specific requirements or restrictions on transfers.

2. Research the new facility: It is important to research the new facility where you want to transfer to and familiarize yourself with their operating procedures, airspace layout, and any unique considerations.

3. Apply for the transfer: Most facilities will have an internal application process for transferring controllers. You will need to submit an application, including your qualifications and reasons for wanting to transfer.

4. Meet eligibility requirements: The new facility may have certain eligibility criteria that must be met in order for a controller to be eligible for a transfer, such as specific training and experience levels.

5. Go through interviews and assessments: Depending on the preference of the new facility, you may be required to go through interviews or assessments as part of the application process.

6. Obtain necessary clearances and approvals: Once selected for a transfer, you will need to obtain necessary clearances from both your current facility and the new one before making any moves.

7. Relocate and begin training: After obtaining all necessary approvals, you will need to relocate to your new assigned location. Depending on your experience level at your current facility, you may also need to complete additional training at your new facility before fully taking over operational duties.

Overall, it is best to communicate openly with both of your facilities throughout this process to ensure a smooth transition from one airport office


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