Air Traffic Controller

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Air Traffic Controller


It's January, and you're piloting a plane full of cold New Yorkers to the warm sands of Hawaii. Once you arrive in the air above Maui, however, you come upon dozens of other airplanes hanging in the sky, trying to land. The planes have brought people from all over the world, and the landing space is clogged with them. No one can lower their planes to the tarmac below! You shrug, turn your plane around and head back to the cold snow of New York Oh, well. Maybe you'll try again next year...

This would never happen. Air traffic controllers know which planes are due to arrive in their airspace, when and from where. Using straight line of sight as well as radar, they can track the movement of planes, helicopters, and other aircraft within a set zone. They work at airports, in towers, and at centers located in highly-travelled areas, assisting pilots chart their courses. They watch the planes as they come into their range, and they inform the pilots about other airplanes in the area and give them landing instructions. They also monitor take offs, and let pilots know when appropriate times to leave the airport would be. Sometimes they give weather updates, as well.

Air traffic controllers have very stressful jobs. They must be able to ensure that dozens of planes share the same sky without causing one another disturbances. In fact, the job can be so stressful that planes are scheduled to arrive and take off only at certain times, so for an eight-hour shift, there may be only four hours of intense work and four hours of wait time.

Air traffic controlling is an extremely important job. Without these workers, airborne accidents might be much more frequent. They keep the pilots in line, so to speak, and maintain regulations from their posts miles below.
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Liberty University

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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Interested in working as an air traffic controller? They need to be quick thinking and able to cope with stressful situations, as well as dedicated, loyal and safety conscious. Air traffic controllers must be able to make spontaneous decisions. They are responsible, highly organized and able to concentrate for long periods of time. They need to have a visual mind. They are good communicators, who can convey information concisely. Air traffic controllers should enjoy working within a regulated field, and should enjoy taking on leadership roles.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Give pilots takeoff and landing instructions, ensuring planes are safe distances apart
  • Give pilots advice based on information received from navigation authorities
  • Monitor radar screens and airport sky for unscheduled arrivals
  • Listen for calls from pilots
  • Instruct pilots en route about other planes or aircraft in the area
  • The typical day for an air traffic controller is filled with responsibilities and stress. As the main people who prevent accidents for pilots upon landing, takeoff, and en route flying, air traffic controllers watch their radar screens and the sky for planes and helicopters. They are always on the lookout for possible collisions. They don't get to do much travelling, and spend most of each shift indoors.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Air traffic controllers work either at en route centers or at airports. They often work in a glassed-in tower, from which they direct traffic as it approaches to the airport. Those at en route centers in more remote areas are removed from the airport.
  • Air traffic controllers work together, in teams. As airports are in service 24 hours a day, so are the air traffic controllers, who are assigned to work shifts on weekends, in the middle of the night, and on holidays.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Air traffic controllers can advance to supervisory positions, or move on to work in other areas of flight control, like flight dispatching. They can train to become pilots, or enter a profession that would use their patience and skill for level-headed decision making.

  Educational Paths  
In order to work in this stressful, yet exciting job, a high school diploma is required. It is also a good idea to pursue a university degree or college diploma in meteorology, physics, arts, English or communications and computers. Prospective air traffic controllers need to pass a basic exam and interview, security clearance and a medical exam. It is a good idea to ask to visit a air traffic control center or tower, to learn about the different learning opportunities in your area. Other subjects to consider studying are math, physics, languages and theater (to help with your speaking).

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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