Air Traffic Control Specialist

Career Outlook

Currently, there is a nationwide staffing shortage for air traffic control specialists (ATCS), which means there will remain a great need for new controllers for the foreseeable future. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) posts all current ATCS job openings on USAJOBS.

The median annual wage for air traffic control specialists was $127,805 in 2016. The salary for an entry-level air traffic control specialist increases as you complete each new training phase. The annual salary for more advanced controllers who have completed on-the-job training varies with the location of the facility, the complexity of the airspace, and other factors.

As a federal employee, air traffic control specialists receive a benefits package that rivals, if not surpasses, those offered in the private sector, with a variety of insurance, retirement, leave, and flexible-spending options for employees and their families.

Most air traffic control specialists work full time, and some work additional hours. Larger air traffic control facilities operate continuously, and employees may rotate among day, evening, and night shifts, along with weekends and holidays. Smaller facilities have more standard dawn-to-dusk operating hours.  Learn More at >


Air traffic control specialists work in airport control towers, Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facilities, and regional en route control centers to ensure the safe, orderly, and expeditious movement of more than 134 million operations each year, including nearly nine million commercial flights. Included in this group are ATCSs who work in Federal Contract Tower (FCT) and Department of Defense (DoD) facilities. Controllers safeguard nearly one billion aviation passengers within the national airspace system each year. Learn More >


Applicants with at least 52 weeks of on-the-job air traffic control experience may be exempt from some of these minimum requirements:

  • Be a United States citizen.
  • Be under age 31.
  • Pass a medical examination.
  • Pass a security investigation.
  • Pass the FAA air traffic pre-employment tests.
  • Speak English clearly enough to be understood over communications equipment.
  • Have three years of progressively responsible work experience, a bachelor’s degree, or a combination of post-secondary education and work experience that totals three years.
  • Be willing to relocate to an FAA facility based on agency staffing needs.

Learn More >

Training Path

In the case of those applicants hired by the FAA (FCT controllers are hired by one of three private companies who operate those facilities, and DoD controllers are hired by the DoD), controller candidates undergo both initial classroom training and on-the-job training to become fully certified at their assigned facility.  Learn More >

Regulatory Oversight

The FAA regulates and oversees Air Traffic Control in the United States. (Note: The U.S. Department of Defense is the oversight agency in Kalaeloa, Hawaii; Cherry Point, N.C.; and Los Alamitos, Calif.)