Air Traffic Controller Salary

Salary Overview

The salary provided to an air traffic controller is relatively high compared to most professions in the United States, and also comes with a number of benefits. According to statistics from the Bureau of Labor, the median annual salary an air traffic controller could expect to receive in May 2008 was $111,870. The middle 50 percent of air traffic controllers earned an annual wage between $71,050 and $143,780. The lowest 10 percent of air traffic controllers earned an annual wage of less than $45,020, while the highest 10 percent earned an annual wage that exceeded $161,010. The Federal Government is the primary employer of air traffic controllers, and 90 percent of all air traffic controllers in the United States are connected in some way to the Federal Government. The average annual wage an air traffic controller working for the Federal Government could expect to receive in March 2009 was $109,218.*

*According to the BLS,

The pay system for air traffic control classifies the different air traffic facilities where controllers may work into one of eight ratings, and each rating has its own pay band. As a result, the salary of an air traffic controller is determined by the rating of the facility where he or she works. The higher the rating, the higher the salary the air traffic controller can expect to receive, but with that increase in pay typically comes an increase in the demands that must be addressed on a daily basis, and an increase in the amount of skill, judgment, and decision making prowess an air traffic controller must possess.

Depending on how long an air traffic controller has worked, he or she may be eligible for between 13 and 26 days of paid vacation and up to 13 days of sick leave that is paid with each year, on top of the typical health and life insurance benefits. In comparison to other employees of the Federal Government, air traffic controllers are also allowed to retire at an earlier age (they become eligible for retirement at age 50 if they have 20 years of active service as an air traffic controller) and after having worked for fewer years. In most cases, however, there is a mandatory age of retirement for air traffic controllers actively involved in the management of air traffic, which is currently age 56.

Job Description and Outlook

Air traffic controllers work with the National Aerospace System to make sure air traffic (commercial and private aircraft) is coordinated and predictable, and that airplanes stay safe distances apart from each other. They primarily work for safety but also try to minimize delays.

The job outlook for air traffic controllers in the United States is projected to be good. Air traffic controllers are expected to experience an employment growth that is about as fast as that of the average profession in the United States, but the majority of openings and opportunities in the field are expected to be related to the need to find new workers for those who retire from the profession or leave it to seek other opportunities. There is expected to be a high degree of competition for the positions that open within the profession of air traffic controlling.*

*According to the BLS,

Increases in air traffic in the coming years will require an increase in the number of air traffic controllers to manage the additional work flow. There is not expected to be an increase in job growth that matches the increase in aircraft in the air and overall air traffic due to improvements in air tracking technology that somewhat reduces the need for vigilance by air traffic controllers.

Training and Education Requirements

Air traffic controllers need to complete training in a variety of air traffic training programs, and must possess four year college degrees and work experience if applying from the public. Applicants without prior experience must be under the age of 30. Training and certification takes several years.


The certification required for air traffic controllers will depend on the facilities in which the air traffic controller was trained. Certification will typically exist either as a graduation requirement from a training program or as a requirement that must be completed shortly after graduation from a training program. To be employed virtually every airline setting in the United States, some form of certification and accreditation will be required from a prospective air traffic controller, as the regulation of the field is considered to be a high priority due to the safety and security ramifications of the profession. Typically certification will require a certain amount of supervised experience, as well as numerous written and practical tests and years of training and coursework.

Professional Associations

There are a wide variety of professional organizations and associations in which air traffic controllers can seek membership. The most prominent of these are listed below. It is worth noting that many air traffic controllers are members of unions, and the most popular of these unions ins the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

  • The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization
  • The National Air Traffic Controllers Association
  • International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Associations

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