Air Traffic Control Specialist

Last Updated:
January 20, 2024

Job Description Overview

An Air Traffic Control Specialist job description involves managing the flow of air traffic to ensure that planes take off and land safely. These specialists, sometimes referred to as ATCs, work in airport control towers, radar centers, and command centers. They monitor planes through high-tech equipment and communicate with pilots to provide them with directions, such as altitude changes or course corrections. ATCs must be quick thinkers and have excellent judgment to make crucial decisions that can impact the safety of passengers and plane crews. Attention to detail, strong communication skills, and the ability to work well under pressure are critical to success in the role. ATCs work around the clock and must be able to handle shifting schedules and intense focus for hours. This job is essential for ensuring the safety and efficiency of air travel in the transportation industry.

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Job Duties and Responsibilities

  • Control and monitor the movement of aircraft in the airspace
  • Issue instructions to pilots regarding takeoff, landing, and airborne maneuvers
  • Alert pilots to potential safety hazards or inclement weather
  • Manage traffic flow to prevent collisions or delays
  • Communicate effectively with other air traffic control personnel and pilots
  • Use radar and surveillance equipment to track aircraft
  • Analyze data and make decisions quickly and accurately
  • Maintain accurate records and logs of all aircraft movements and communications

Experience and Education Requirements

To be an air traffic control specialist, you need a mix of education and experience. Most people who get these jobs have a high school diploma or equivalent, and then go on to get an associate's or bachelor's degree in subjects like aviation or air traffic control. However, you can also qualify with just work experience in aviation, such as a former military air traffic controller. It's important to have good communication and decision-making skills, as well as the ability to stay calm in high-stress situations. Physical and mental health are also important, as well as passing various background checks and assessments.

Salary Range

Air Traffic Control Specialists are responsible for safely guiding and directing planes in the air and on the ground. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for Air Traffic Control Specialists in the United States was $124,540 as of May 2020. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $70,820 while the top 10 percent earned more than $176,130. 

In Canada, the median salary for Air Traffic Controllers is CAD $106,473 per year, according to the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association. In Australia, the salary range for Air Traffic Controllers is between AUD $86,000 and AUD $142,000 per year, according to LiveSalary.

While the job can be stressful, the attractive salary and job security typically make a career as an Air Traffic Control Specialist highly desirable.


  • Bureau of Labor Statistics:
  • Canadian Air Traffic Control Association:
  • LiveSalary:

Career Outlook

If you want a career in the Transportation industry, becoming an Air Traffic Control Specialist may be an excellent choice. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of air traffic controllers is projected to grow 1 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is the same average projected growth rate for all occupations.

Moreover, the Federal Aviation Administration indicates that they will be hiring more air traffic control specialists in the coming years due to the retirement of over 10,000 controllers hired in the 1980s. Therefore, the job outlook for Air Traffic Control Specialists appears to be promising with job security and opportunities for growth.

So, if you're interested in this field, start pursuing your dream now!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: What does an Air Traffic Control Specialist do?

A: An Air Traffic Control Specialist manages and directs air traffic at airports and in the sky to ensure safe and efficient movement of planes.

Q: What qualifications do I need to become an Air Traffic Control Specialist?

A: You need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, completion of an approved FAA education program, and passing the FAA’s Air Traffic Skills Assessment test.

Q: What are the working conditions like for an Air Traffic Control Specialist?

A: They work in a high-stress environment, constantly monitoring multiple planes and making split-second decisions. They also work in shifts, including nights and weekends.

Q: Can I become an Air Traffic Control Specialist without prior aviation experience?

A: Yes, you can become an Air Traffic Control Specialist without prior aviation experience, but you need to undergo specialized training and meet eligibility requirements for the position.

Q: How important is communication for an Air Traffic Control Specialist?

A: Communication is crucial for an Air Traffic Control Specialist since they need to communicate with pilots, ground support staff, and other controllers to ensure smooth and safe operations. They must have excellent verbal and written communication skills.

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