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Career Profile: Air Traffic Controller

Why Is Air Traffic Controlling a Job of Tomorrow?
Despite the financial struggles that airlines are undergoing, airports remain busy. Consequently, air traffic controllers are needed for the crucial job of safely guiding complex flight routes. Employment opportunities for air traffic controllers are expected to increase 10 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Air traffic controllers earn an average salary of $117,240 annually.

What Does an Air Traffic Controller Do?
Air traffic controllers are responsible for directing and managing airway activity. Visibility and depth perception, as well as distance judgment, is greatly reduced in the air, so air traffic controllers must ensure that all aircrafts have an ample amount of buffer space around them. Even a slight miscalculation could be catastrophic, so air traffic controllers must be aware of every plane in the sky and on the runway at all times. The bulk of an air traffic controller's responsibility is to manage flights coming in and out of airports. In 2008, 25 percent of all flights were delayed, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Most of these delays were out of air traffic controllers' hands to remedy, but some were caused by congested airport runways and airspace. Air traffic controllers must always strive to keep the airport runways free from congestion to minimize lost time and money. When an airplane lands, a traffic controller works from the airport's air traffic control tower to guide the aircraft's pilot to the plane's assigned gate. Controllers also inform pilots about weather conditions around the airport, including temperature, visibility, and wind speed and direction. When a pilot is ready, controllers will give them clearance for takeoff. At busy airports where many planes may be occupying the same general airspace at the same time, air traffic controllers must alter some flight routes to prevent collisions.

What Kind of Training Do I Need to Become an Air Traffic Controller?
Air traffic controllers should expect to complete a bachelor's degree in a science or physics field or have three years of full-time work experience in the field. A bachelor's degree takes four years to complete. A degree program in science covers such topics as mathematics and meteorology. Prospective air traffic controllers must also complete an FAA-approved education program to learn more about the job. They then must successfully complete a preemployment examination, which typically takes eight hours to finish. After getting hired, air traffic controllers are required to pass an annual physical examination as well as a biannual job performance evaluation.