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Occupation Profile

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Air Traffic Controllers
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Description: what do they do?
Control air traffic on and within vicinity of airport and movement of air traffic between altitude sectors and control centers according to established procedures and policies. Authorize, regulate, and control commercial airline flights according to government or company regulations to expedite and ensure flight safety.
Also known as:
Certified Professional Controller (CPC), Air Traffic Control Specialist, Terminal, Control Tower Operator, Air Traffic Control Specialist/Certified Professional Controller (ATC Specialist/CPC), Radar Air Traffic Controller, Air Traffic Controller, Center, Air Traffic Control Specialist (ATCS), Air Traffic Controller (Tower Option), Air Traffic Controller (Enroute Option), Air Traffic Controller (ATC)

    What does this information tell me?

    This description is a quick overview of what workers in this career might do.

    "Also known as" shows other common names for this career.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from an O*NET database. Learn more on the Help page.

Career video
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    Transcript: Watching blips on radar screens can make it seem like playing a video game… but each number on screen represents an aircraft – and the safety of flights depends on the careful, decisive guidance of air traffic controllers. These professionals typically work in the airport control tower to direct the flow of planes and passengers— whether on the ground, taking off, or coming in for a landing. Safety is their main priority— but air traffic controllers also try to minimize delays. Each controller is part of a nationwide system, responding to weather, mechanical difficulties, and all the small things that can cause big problems for pre-arranged flight plans. They must follow procedures to the letter, adapt to new circumstances continuously, and communicate clearly. Most air traffic controllers in the United States are trained at the Federal Aviation Administration Academy; trainees must start training before age 31, have U.S. citizenship, and pass several evaluations including an assessment of their ability to cope with mental stress over long hours. An aviation background is a plus. With the unusual characteristic of mandatory retirement at age 56, and typically excellent pay and benefits, this can be an attractive career that demands concentrated focus. Like the intricate cogs of a Swiss watch, air traffic controllers are part of an elegant choreography that makes air travel safe and speedy.
View transcript
Outlook: will there be jobs?
Image. Employment outlook for this occupation
New job opportunities are less likely in the future.


    What does this information tell me?

    Outlook information can tell you whether a career is expected to be in demand in the future—that is, whether there are likely to be job openings if you choose this career. Careers can have one of three outlooks:

    • A Bright outlook means new job opportunities are very likely in the future
    • An Average outlook means that a small number of new job opportunities are likely in the future (less than an 8 percent increase)
    • A Below Average outlook means new job opportunities are less likely in the future

    You can also view local job listings in this field by clicking "Find job openings" above. This can help you see if local businesses are hiring—another way of looking at demand.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from the O*NET Resource Center. Learn more about O*NET’s Bright Outlook occupations. Note this information is only available at a national level, so even if you selected a state, you’ll only see this information for the whole country.

Projected employment
Florida
1,940
2016 Employment
2,070
2026 Employment
6%
Percent change
190
Annual projected job openings
United States
24,300
2018 Employment
24,600
2028 Employment
1%
Percent change
2,300
Annual projected job openings

    What does this information tell me?

    Projected employment shows how much employment is expected to grow in this occupation over a 10-year period. This can help you decide if this career is a good choice for future job opportunities. You can look at projected employment in your state, or in other states where you might consider living.

    You can see the total number of people employed in this occupation in 2016 (for states) or 2018 (for the United States), the number expected to be employed in 2026 (for states) or 2028 (for the United States), and rate of growth over those years.

    The projections are based on assumptions of unemployment rates and labor productivity growth rates.  While the projected numbers may not be exact, they are helpful to compare one career to another, or one location to another.

    What is the source of this information?

    State-level data come from Projections Central and each state's Labor Market Information office, 2016-26.

    National-level data come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections, 2018-28.

Typical wages

Annual wages for Air Traffic Controllers in United States
This graph displays wage data.  Find details by selecting the table view.
This chart displays wage data.  Find details by selecting the table view.
LocationFLORIDAUnited States
10%N/A$68,090
25%N/A$86,900
MedianN/A$124,540
75%N/A$152,830
90%N/A$178,650


    What does this information tell me?

    This chart shows you a range of how much most workers in this occupation earn per hour, in the location that you selected.

    You can select from three views of this data:

    • The Graph shows you wages at the 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th and 90th percentiles. Note that the lowest (10th %ile) wage shown is not necessarily a "starting wage." Instead it means that 10 percent of all workers in this career earn less that this amount, and 90 percent earn more. However, you can assume that you might earn close to the 10th or 25th %ile wages when you start out in most careers.
    • Select "Chart" to see a visual comparison between national wages and wages in the location you selected.
    • Select "Table" to see more wage data the national and local level.

    Please note that wage data are not available at the city or ZIP code level. If you selected a city or ZIP code, you will see wage data for the regional area.

    Also note that in this update, 21 detailed occupations found within the 2010 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) were replaced with 10 new aggregations of those occupations; read more about these OES changes.

    You can learn more about wages for this and other occupations by clicking “See more wages” above.

    What is the source of this information?

    The wage information comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics Program, 2018 data. For more detailed state wage data, please find the link to your state's wage data program in the Other Resources box.

Education and experience: to get started
People starting in this career usually have:
  • Associate's degree
  • No work experience
  • More than 1 year on-the-job training

Programs that can prepare you:

    What does this information tell me?

    This shows you the typical level of education, work experience, and on-the-job training that most people have when they start in this career. Note that these are not requirements for entering this field, but the information can help you understand how qualified you might be.

    Interested in starting in this career? You can search for education programs in your local area by clicking “Find local training” above.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections, Education and training assignments by detailed occupation, 2018.

Typical education
How much education do most people in this career have?
Chart. Percent of workers in this field by education level attained

    What does this information tell me?

    This chart shows you the range of education levels that people who currently work in this field have. You can use this to see if you fit in this range. Note that this includes ALL people who work in this field and not just those getting started.

    Interested in getting qualified for this career? You can search for programs that lead to the education needed, in your local area, by clicking “Find local training” above.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections, Educational attainment for workers 25 years and older by detailed occupation, 2016–17.

Certifications: show your skills
Let employers know you have the skills to do well at this job.
Earning a certification can help you:
  • Get a job
  • Get a promotion

    What does this information tell me?

    When you click "Find certifications" you'll see a list of national certifications that are related to this career. From there, you can learn how to achieve one of these certifications to help you enter or get ahead in this field.

    What is the source of this information?

    This collection of occupational certifications is collected and regularly updated by CareerOneStop. Learn more at Certification Finder Help.

Licenses: do you need one?
Some states require an occupational license to work in this career.

    What does this information tell me?

    When you click "Find license details in your state" you'll see the license name and contact information for the agency in your state that oversees licensing for this field. If you have not selected a location, you'll see a list of all state licenses for this occupation.

    What is the source of this information?

    Information on licensed occupations is gathered in each state by Labor Market Information units under a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Learn more at License Finder Help.

Apprenticeships: learn on the job
Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job-training with classroom lessons.

    What does this information tell me?

    When you click "Find apprenticeship sponsors" you'll find information that can help you locate apprenticeship opportunities in your state:

    • If there are businesses that have sponsored apprenticeships in this field in the past, you'll find their name and contact information.
    • If there are related occupations that might have apprenticeship opportunities, you'll find links to that information.
    • You'll also see contact information for state and federal agencies that oversee apprenticeship programs.

    What is the source of this information?

    Apprenticeship information comes from the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Apprenticeships, and from CareerOneStop. Learn more at Apprenticeship Finder Help.

Activities: what you might do in a day
  • Notify others of emergencies, problems, or hazards.
  • Communicate with others to coordinate vehicle movement.
  • Respond to transportation emergencies.
  • Coordinate flight control or management activities.
  • Direct vehicle traffic.
  • Monitor vehicle movement or location.
  • Adjust routes or speeds as necessary.
  • Direct emergency management activities.
  • Train transportation or material moving personnel.
  • Monitor surroundings to detect potential hazards.
  • Operate communications equipment or systems.
  • Plan flight operations.
  • Meet with coworkers to communicate work orders or plans.
  • Choose optimal transportation routes or speeds.
  • Review documents or materials for compliance with policies or regulations.
  • Record operational details of travel.

    What does this information tell me?

    This is a list of typical work activities that people in this career might do on the job. You can use this list to get an idea of whether this career might be a good fit for you.

    Click on “More activities” to see more detailed examples of activities for this career.

    You can also use this list to help you prepare for a job interview. Or, if you’ve already held a job like this, you can copy these activities to use on your resume.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from O*NET OnLine's Occupation Information. They are O*NET’s Detailed Work Activities.

Knowledge
People in this career often know a lot about:
  • Transportation - Knowledge of principles and methods for moving people or goods by air, rail, sea, or road, including the relative costs and benefits.
  • English Language - Knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.
  • Education and Training - Knowledge of principles and methods for curriculum and training design, teaching and instruction for individuals and groups, and the measurement of training effects.
  • Public Safety and Security - Knowledge of relevant equipment, policies, procedures, and strategies to promote effective local, state, or national security operations for the protection of people, data, property, and institutions.
  • Customer and Personal Service - Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.
  • Geography - Knowledge of principles and methods for describing the features of land, sea, and air masses, including their physical characteristics, locations, interrelationships, and distribution of plant, animal, and human life.
  • Telecommunications - Knowledge of transmission, broadcasting, switching, control, and operation of telecommunications systems.

    What does this information tell me?

    This is a list of general knowledge areas that are most commonly required for jobs in the career. Knowledge is typically gained through education and related experience.

    This list can help you learn if you are prepared for a job in this career. It can also help you decide on education or training programs that could help you prepare for the career.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from the O*NET Resource Center. Learn more about O*NET's Knowledge descriptors.

Skills
People in this career often have these skills:
  • Active Listening - Listening to others, not interrupting, and asking good questions.
  • Speaking - Talking to others.
  • Critical Thinking - Thinking about the pros and cons of different ways to solve a problem.
  • Judgment and Decision Making - Thinking about the pros and cons of different options and picking the best one.
  • Monitoring - Keeping track of how well people and/or groups are doing in order to make improvements.
  • Complex Problem Solving - Noticing a problem and figuring out the best way to solve it.
  • Coordination - Changing what is done based on other people's actions.
  • Active Learning - Figuring out how to use new ideas or things.
  • Reading Comprehension - Reading work-related information.
  • Time Management - Managing your time and the time of other people.
  • Social Perceptiveness - Understanding people's reactions.

    What does this information tell me?

    This is a list of a list the work-related skills most commonly required for jobs in the career.

    This list can help you understand how well your current skills fit this career. It can also help you plan your education or professional development.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from the O*NET Resource Center. Learn more about O*NET's Skills descriptors.

Abilities
People in this career often have talent in:
  • Problem Sensitivity - Noticing when problems happen.
  • Oral Expression - Communicating by speaking.
  • Oral Comprehension - Listening and understanding what people say.
  • Selective Attention - Paying attention to something without being distracted.
  • Deductive Reasoning - Using rules to solve problems.
  • Flexibility of Closure - Seeing hidden patterns.
  • Inductive Reasoning - Making general rules or coming up with answers from lots of detailed information.
  • Speed of Closure - Quickly knowing what you are looking at.
  • Perceptual Speed - Quickly comparing groups of letters, numbers, pictures, or other things.
  • Near Vision - Seeing details up close.
  • Far Vision - Seeing details that are far away.
  • Time Sharing - Doing two or more things at the same time.
  • Speech Clarity - Speaking clearly.
  • Information Ordering - Ordering or arranging things.
  • Speech Recognition - Recognizing spoken words.
  • Written Comprehension - Reading and understanding what is written.
  • Category Flexibility - Grouping things in different ways.
  • Auditory Attention - Paying attention to one sound while there are other distracting sounds.
  • Visualization - Imagining how something will look after it is moved around or changed.
  • Written Expression - Communicating by writing.
  • Fluency of Ideas - Coming up with lots of ideas.
  • Originality - Creating new and original ideas.

    What does this information tell me?

    This is a list of a list of personal qualities that might influence work and are most commonly required for success in this career.

    This list can help you understand if your natural strengths and abilities are a good fit for this career.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from the O*NET Resource Center. Learn more about O*NET's Abilities descriptors.

Interests
  • Conventional - Occupations related to Conventional interests frequently involve following set procedures and routines. They include working with data and details more than with ideas. Usually there is a clear line of authority to follow.
  • Enterprising - Occupations with Enterprising interests frequently involve starting up and carrying out projects. Many involve leading people and making many decisions. Sometimes they require risk taking and often deal with business.

    What does this information tell me?

    This is a list of work environment-preferences that are most commonly associated with the career. It can help you understand if your natural interests are a good fit for this career.

    Click "Take an interest assessment" for a quick 30-question assessment that can help you understand your interests and see careers that might be good matches for them.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from the O*NET Resource Center. Learn more about O*NET's Interest descriptors.

Typical tasks
  • Inform pilots about nearby planes or potentially hazardous conditions, such as weather, speed and direction of wind, or visibility problems.
  • Issue landing and take-off authorizations or instructions.
  • Provide flight path changes or directions to emergency landing fields for pilots traveling in bad weather or in emergency situations.
  • Transfer control of departing flights to traffic control centers and accept control of arriving flights.
  • Alert airport emergency services in cases of emergency or when aircraft are experiencing difficulties.
  • Monitor or direct the movement of aircraft within an assigned air space or on the ground at airports to minimize delays and maximize safety.
  • Direct pilots to runways when space is available or direct them to maintain a traffic pattern until there is space for them to land.
  • Monitor aircraft within a specific airspace, using radar, computer equipment, or visual references.
  • Direct ground traffic, including taxiing aircraft, maintenance or baggage vehicles, or airport workers.
  • Contact pilots by radio to provide meteorological, navigational, or other information.
  • Maintain radio or telephone contact with adjacent control towers, terminal control units, or other area control centers to coordinate aircraft movement.
  • Determine the timing or procedures for flight vector changes.
  • Initiate or coordinate searches for missing aircraft.
  • Provide on-the-job training to new air traffic controllers.
  • Check conditions and traffic at different altitudes in response to pilots' requests for altitude changes.
  • Relay air traffic information, such as courses, altitudes, or expected arrival times, to control centers.
  • Inspect, adjust, or control radio equipment or airport lights.
  • Organize flight plans or traffic management plans to prepare for planes about to enter assigned airspace.
  • Conduct pre-flight briefings on weather conditions, suggested routes, altitudes, indications of turbulence, or other flight safety information.
  • Analyze factors such as weather reports, fuel requirements, or maps to determine air routes.
  • Review records or reports for clarity and completeness and maintain records or reports, as required under federal law.
  • Complete daily activity reports and keep records of messages from aircraft.

    What does this information tell me?

    This is a list of typical tasks that people in this career might do on the job.  You can use this list to get an idea of whether this career might be a good fit for you.

    Click on “More tasks” to see more detailed examples for this career.

    You can also use this list to help you prepare for a job interview. Or, if you’ve already held a job like this, you can copy these tasks to use on your resume.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from O*NET OnLine's Occupation Information. They are O*NET‘s Tasks.

    What does this information tell me?

    These are additional online resources related to this career. You may find different or more detailed information at these sources.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information is collected and maintained by CareerOneStop.