As you may imagine, there is more than one type of air traffic controller. Although all controllers do the same basic thing – keep the air safe and efficient – the individual careers can be very different.
Your career can be spent in a tower, on the ground, or a combination of the two. In your career, you may also have the option of working with either the military or the Federal Aviation Administration.
According to the National Air Traffic Control Association, there are several ways to become an air traffic controller. “Many are trained while in the military and after their service is completed, the FAA can hire them.” If not trained in the military, one can attend an FAA-approved college and then enter the FAA Air Traffic Control Academy. After graduating, “controllers are assigned to different towers and centers around the nation,” the association says.
There are a few types of air traffic controllers. Here are some of the controller titles and what each job entails.
Terminal controllers: Watch all planes in an airport’s airspace, with the main responsibility of organizing smooth arrivals and departures.
Tower local controller: Using visual observation, these controllers issue departure clearances for airplanes leaving the airport based on arrival sequences.
Tower flight data controller: These controllers get the flight plan in the form of a flight strip, which they output from a computer and arrange in a sequence for the airplane pilot.
En Route controller: An en route controller will work in a location that's off the airport property. A passenger will never see them during the course of the flight, but they will be directing the aircraft for a majority of its flight.
Clearance delivery controller: When an aircraft calls for clearance the clearance delivery controller issues the clearance and moves the strip over to the ground controller.
Ground controller: This controller gets the clearance from the previous controller and manages the movement of the aircraft on the airport surface (excluding the active runway).
Local controller: When the aircraft arrives at the active runway, the strip is moved to the local controller who issues the departure clearance, observes the takeoff and turns the plane over to the departure controller.
Terminal radar arrival controller: This controller sequences flight arrivals with other arrivals, and issues approach clearances.
Although not a comprehensive list, you can see that air traffic controllers are just that: they are in charge of controlling air traffic in an airspace – whether it be an airport or other space.