As the name suggests, an air traffic controller is in charge of traffic, in and around the airport, and maintains communication with pilots, appraising them with vital information. They also perform several other duties which ensure aircraft safety in the air and on the ground.
The air traffic controller position is one of the most important job profiles in the airline industry. They are responsible for the safety of an aircraft and its passengers. A large number of controllers work for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), though some are employed by the armed forces. Individuals working in this field have to work long hours and the job can become stressful at times.
As airports are almost never closed, they have to work in shifts. Aspirants have to undergo training from the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program that has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
This job carries a high degree of responsibility, as you are in charge of the safety of passengers, crew, and expensive aircraft. The job is akin to that of a vehicular traffic cop, standing at a junction. They are responsible for the smooth flow of traffic, without incidents. One of the primary functions of the controller is to make sure that landing strips are free for aircraft landing and takeoff. To ensure this, they must maintain constant communication with aircraft on the ground and in the air. They use advanced telecommunication systems for doing this job effectively.
They will also stay in touch with the National Weather Service and the Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCCs) for information on weather conditions like wind, rain, snow, etc. In cases of bad weather, they assist pilots in safely landing the aircraft, by providing vital information, and preparing the ground crew for any emergencies.
They will also monitor air traffic with the help of a radar, from a screen in the control tower. The controller will use the radar screen to chart a safe and correct flight path for aircraft approaching and leaving the airport.
He will also provide assistance to pilots for in-flight emergencies, related to technical difficulties or related to passengers. For example, if a passenger has health problems on board, the controller will facilitate a priority landing and make sure that emergency medical services are available on the ground. A few air traffic controllers will also be in charge of charting safe and congestion-free flight plans to prevent in-air collisions and ensure smooth passage of aircraft.
Education and Salary
This is one high-paying job that does not require you to have a degree, although you have to complete 2-4 years of non-engineering training from an accredited school. Eligibility criteria for the training program includes having 3 years of full-time work experience in a responsible position. The Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program is offered by many schools associated with the FAA. Students need to have at least a high school diploma or GED equivalent to qualify. On completion of the training program, students will have to clear a pre-employment test and undergo drug screening to obtain federal security clearance.
Most air traffic controllers are employed by the FAA and the average salaries range anywhere between USD 50,000 to USD 160,000 annually. The wages also depend on the number of years of experience and the geographic location of the job. The US army and navy also hire them, but pay considerably lower wages. The average salary offered by the US Army ranges between USD 21,000 to USD 45,000 per year. The US Navy pays around USD 24,000 to USD 47,000 annually. US Air Force also hires these professionals and the salary they offer also hovers between the USD 22,000 to USD 47,000 per year mark.
That the job carries great responsibility is probably an understatement, considering the nature of the work. The profession commands high respect. Individuals looking to make a career in this profession need to have personal qualities like patience, ability to interpret data quickly, and excellent communication skills.