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.
What 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.
On the job, you would:
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.
Transfer control of departing flights to traffic control centers and accept control of arriving flights.
movement of people or goods by air, rail, sea, or road
Arts and Humanities
Education and Training
teaching and course design
Safety and Government
public safety and security
listening to others, not interrupting, and asking good questions
talking to others
noticing a problem and figuring out the best way to solve it
People and Technology Systems
thinking about the pros and cons of different options and picking the best one
figuring out how a system should work and how changes in the future will affect it
pay attention to something without being distracted
do two or more things at the same time
quickly know what you are looking at
see hidden patterns
communicate by speaking
listen and understand what people say
Ideas and Logic
notice when problems happen
People interested in this work like activities that include leading, making decisions, and business.
They do well at jobs that need:
Attention to Detail
You might use software like this on the job:
Flight control software
Traffic management advisor TMA software
high school diploma/GED or certificate after high school usually needed
New job opportunities are less likely in the future.