13 Pros and Cons of Being an Air Traffic Controller

Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) can earn a lot of money while working and get impressive benefits and retirement packages.

However, this field is highly competitive, and the job market is limited.

Additionally, training and education take a very long time to complete.

If you are considering becoming an Air Traffic Controller, read this article to learn about the pros and cons of this position.

Pros of Being an Air Traffic Controller

1. Air Traffic Controllers Do Important Work

Air Traffic Controllers are lifelines that process all incoming and outgoing flights and ensure flight safety by communicating with pilots.

ATCs also have to manage ground traffic and organize runway takeoffs and departures.

This job requires true multitasking skills; ATCs may speak with one pilot while making flight time and runway order calculations or dealing with an obstruction on the runway or taxiway.

ATCs also need to deal with emergency situations, which can entail all sorts of things, such as inclement weather causing turbulence, mechanical failure, or an onboard threat.

2. You Get the Best On-The-Job Training

You may be getting the impression that being an Air Traffic Controller is very difficult.

While that is true, luckily, most training happens on the job.

You are given simple tasks to start out with, and your role expands gradually as you prove yourself in a new working environment.

This means that most ATC is given responsibilities after proving their merit.

You will be working alongside industry veterans and experienced pilots, not to mention advancing digital assistance technology that is getting increasingly automated, so there is little to fear if you study and listen well.

3. It Pays Well to be an Air Traffic Controller

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2020 report states that the average Air Traffic Controller working for the federal government, which is over 90% of the jobs available, makes a median of $137,380 annually.

Support staff with similar training and expertise make $79,580 annually.

Keep in mind that this is a full-time job that may have you working 10 hours in a row, with only a 9-hour rest.

Larger airports that operate 24-hours a day may have you on call for flights, unlike smaller airports, where you might be on a schedule.

4. Air Traffic Controllers Have Good Benefits

Given that most Air Traffic Controllers work for the federal government, the benefits are notable and a significant incentive for those considering this career path.

ATCs get free life and health insurance, dental and vision benefits, and long-term care insurance.

Furthermore, the government will match your deposits in their Thrift Savings retirement plan, or you can choose to invest in a FERS Retirement Pension Plan.

There are additional benefits for working parents with children.

5. The Job Market is Stable

People will always be flying, which is good for you if you are considering a job as an Air Traffic Controller.

While the job growth rate is slow, and overall flights have been reduced because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, more people are taking flights on a grand scale.

ATCs are mandated to retire by 56, which means new jobs are constantly opening up.

In the United States, there is also nothing more convenient than flying for long-distance transport, and there is nothing that will likely make that change for a while.

6. Work in the Airline Industry without Travelling

Airlines are fascinating to work at, but working as a pilot or airline attendant means traveling a lot and staying away from home frequently.

Parents of small children, pet owners, and those who have to care for a disabled or ill family member have difficulty being a pilot, despite its lucrative pay.

Other jobs at airports may require less specific skills and consequently pay their respective employees less.

Working as an ATC is rewarding and mandates that you stay at home for a set time after work.

7. You Can Retire Early

Air Traffic Controllers deal with a lot of stress on the job, which is why they have to retire at 56.

Surprisingly, due to fantastic benefits and retirement savings plans, most ATCs retire before they are 56.

Air Traffic Controllers with 20 years of experience become eligible for retirement when they turn 50.

ATCs with 25 years of experience can retire anytime after they reach their 25th year of being an ATC.

Cons of Being an Air Traffic Controller

1. Limited Supply of Jobs

According to the 2020 BLS, there are currently 24,500 jobs in this field and a 4% expected job growth rate over ten years.

The vast majority of positions available to people interested in being an air traffic controller are offered by the federal government through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Very rarely does someone use their job training and education, which already takes a long time to get in the private industry.

Entrepreneurs in this field only have roles in creating businesses offering ATC training or support programs, which is already very limited and competitive.

2. Only Certain People Can Be an Air Traffic Controller in the United States

Those interested in becoming an Air Traffic Controller have to undergo rigorous and demanding training, and only certain people qualify for that training.

To be an ATC, you have to graduate from your training academy – either through the FAA or an FAA-approved air traffic program and complete your schooling by the time you turn 31.

Schools also require you to have at least three years of steady employment, be a US citizen, pass a stress and drug test, and pass a background exam.

While you cannot become an ATC if you are not a US citizen, many non-citizens take courses through the FAA, especially at the central training location in Oklahoma City.

3. Job Training and Education is Challenging

The air traffic control job market is very competitive, and training schools only admit a limited number of applicants each semester.

These stringent conditions weed out less serious and less stable applicants.

To graduate from an American Air Traffic Control School, Air Traffic Control students need to pass the Air Traffic Skills Assessment (ATSA/AT-SA).

This is a rigorous cognitive test that is pass-fail and ranks students, effectively judging their aptitude and determining their future prospects.

4. Notable Amounts of Stress

Being an Air Traffic Controller is difficult, and a lot of stress is involved with your day-to-day tasks.

You have to do quick calculations using arithmetic and technological devices, and if you are inaccurate or too slow, you may cause a plane crash and many deaths.

While technology has improved, and there are systems in place that should help you and the pilots you are responding to, the pressure is real, and that is why ATC has mandatory rest periods.

5. You are Frequently Evaluated at Your Job

All bosses judge your competence, no matter where you work.

However, Air Traffic Controllers have to pass bi-annual job performance exams, annual physical exams, and random drug screenings.

Given the severity of what an accident may cause, any substantial delays with commands and calls are put on your case file.

If you have too many issues on file, then you may be fired with little warning and not much to fall back on, seeing that this job market is limited.

6. You Have to be Available at Any Time

One of the most significant drawbacks of being an Air Traffic Controller is that you must constantly be on the clock.

Unlike other jobs that have job openings throughout the country, not all ATCs can work at smaller airports with set schedules and work hours.

Most ATCs work at large airports with rotating schedules and have to be constantly on call.

Of course, ATCs must have 9 hours of rest after a work session.

However, despite having holiday time off, ATCs not on break have to work on holidays, weekends, and nights.

Pros and Cons of Being an Air Traffic Controller – Summary Table

Pros of Being an Air Traffic ControllerCons of Being an Air Traffic Controller
1. Air Traffic Controllers Do Important Work1. Limited Supply of Jobs
2. You Get the Best On-The-Job Training2. Only Certain People Can Be an Air Traffic Controller in the United States
3. It Pays Well to be an Air Traffic Controller3. Job Training and Education is Challenging
4. Air Traffic Controllers Have Good Benefits4. Notable Amounts of Stress
5. The Job Market is Stable5. You are Frequently Evaluated at Your Job
6. Work in the Airline Industry without Travelling6. You Have to be Available at Any Time
7. You Can Retire Early

Should You Become an Air Traffic Controller?

The Air Traffic Control industry has a lot of money pumping due to massive consumer demand.

If you are interested in becoming an Air Traffic Controller, you should do additional research through the Federal Aviation Administration.

Be prepared for difficult training and a potentially stressful work-life.

However, this all comes with the prestige of being an Air Traffic Controller and the money that comes with doing the job.

If you think you would be a good ATC and deal with the pressure well, then it is time to take the next step, and soon you will be walking into the control tower.


Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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