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Air Traffic Control Degrees

Air traffic controllers are in charge of coordinating the movement of air traffic to ensure that aircraft remain a safe distance apart from one another. Air traffic controllers can be employed at a variety of settings including control towers, approach control facilities, and route centers. Due to the serious nature of this career, there are strict guidelines when it comes to training and even age. Initial applicants must be under the age of 31 and pass an extensive background check. Individuals who are interested in becoming air traffic controllers should seek a formal education from a postsecondary institution. Upon being hired as an air traffic controller individuals will then have to go on to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Academy located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma where they will complete an additional two to five months of training depending on the trainee's background.

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Upon completion of the academy graduates will go on to work as developmental controllers. This is a form of on-the-job training, which can take two to four years to complete. This on-the-job training will eventually lead to full certification. Additional requirements include a pre-employment test given by the FAA and an annual medical examination that must be passed to be considered or to continue as an air traffic controller. Air traffic controllers are responsible for millions of lives daily so they must be focused, controlled, and able to work under stressful conditions with ease; there is no margin for error. Most typically work a regular 40-hour week, however, most major control centers operate continuously, therefore controllers may have to rotate between day, evening, and overnight schedules. Weekend and holiday hours may also be required. 

Associate Degrees in Air Traffic Control 

Earning an associate degree in air traffic control is the easiest way to get started as a professional. Over the course of two years participants will learn about federal government policies pertaining to the practice as well as natural influences that may disrupt air traffic. Curriculum at this level consists of both general education and core-specific courses. Courses that are specific to air traffic control include aviation technology, aviation regulations, air traffic control procedures, aviation meteorology, and airport management. These courses will educate students on the fundamentals of air traffic control and the technology that is used in the industry. Safety courses also have a prominent role in this level of program, as it is important that students learn the vital role that it will play in their profession. Applicants must have a high school diploma or GED equivalent to be eligible for an associate degree program. An admissions letter stating the applicant's education and career aspirations will also be required. After graduation graduates will be ready to move on to the FAA Academy where they will train for an allotted time based on their educational and professional background. Annual tuition for this level of program ranges from $9,000 to $15,000 or more. 

Bachelor's Degrees in Air Traffic Control 

A 4-year bachelor's degree in air traffic control can prepare students to work as FAA air traffic controllers who oversee the entire U.S. air traffic control system. This level of degree is designed to expose participants to procedures and operations consistent with the professional field by participating in aviation labs and computer-based simulation training. The Bachelor of Science degree in Air Traffic Control requires successful completion of 120 credit hours, which consists of both general education and major-specific courses. Common courses that students will come across include air traffic basics, human factors in aviation safety, introduction to air traffic control tower, advanced terminal radar operations, and aviation weather. Even with the higher degree level graduates will still have to go on to the FAA academy to train further just as associate degree graduates, though their training time may be shorter in comparison. Once they complete their training at the academy individuals will then be ready to take their pre-employment exams and begin their on-the-job training. It must be noted that before an individual starts the admissions process for any program they must ensure that they are able to complete their university training and enter the FAA Academy prior to their 31st birthday. Additional admission requirements include a high school diploma or GED, or submitting any college transcripts that reflect 24-credit hours or more. In some cases a letter of intent written by the applicant will also be required. Annual tuition costs for a bachelor's degree in air traffic control can cost anywhere from $20,000 to over $30,000. 

Master's Degrees in Aviation Management 

Individuals who want to earn their graduate degree in air traffic control will have to seek a degree in aviation management. This level of degree is designed to provide professionals who have a number of years of work experience with the knowledge necessary to hold advanced positions in which they can assume new responsibilities. Students can typically graduate with their degree in two years by completing 36 credit hours of study. Key courses include aviation organization operation, airport operations, and special topics in aviation management. In some cases students will also need to complete a master's thesis. Graduates will have the option of going on to work under job titles other than air traffic controller such as airport manager, ground crew manager, and aviation instructor. In order to qualify for a master's degree program the applicant will first have to hold an undergraduate in a like field. A professional resume along with two letters of recommendation from either educational or professional references is also required. Annual tuition typically ranges from $21,000 to $43,920. 


The Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI) is the main accrediting body for aviation programs. Program accreditation should be considered prior to enrolling in any post-secondary program. Accreditation helps both students and their future employers know that their education has been earned through a program that has met industry standards of quality. AABI has three fundamental purposes, which include ensuring the quality of the institution or program, to assist in the improvement of a program, and to maintain relevance of education with the industry it serves. Individuals can make sure their program is accredited by the AABI by visiting their website, which has every program accredited by their organization listed along with the date on which the program became accredited. Accreditation can also typically be confirmed through the website of the school that the student is attending. 

Air Traffic Control Certification 

Due to the serious nature of air traffic control, professionals must meet high training standards and this includes certification. Once students have completed their training at the FAA academy they will then enter into on-the-job training and will receive regular performance reviews over the course of two to four years. Once this additional training has been completed and the practical exam has been passed air traffic controllers will be eligible to receive full certification awarded by the FAA. Controllers must pass regular job performance evaluations and physical evaluations to maintain their certification.

Air Traffic Control Specialties 

There are many different types of air traffic controllers. While this is not a complete list, these are some of the specializations that an air traffic controller may be trained in: 

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 clearance delivery 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.



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