I have been considering a career in the air traffic control field for some time. My career interests fluxuate from time to time, but for some reason, I always come back to ATC as my career of choice. I'm not sure what I find so enticing and cool about it.
Air traffic controller trainees are selected through the competitive Federal Civil Service system. Applicants must pass a written test that measures their ability to learn the controller's duties. Applicants with experience as a pilot, navigator, or military controller can improve their rating by scoring well on the occupational knowledge portion of the examination. Abstract reasoning and three-dimensional spatial visualization are among the aptitudes the exam measures. In addition, applicants generally must have 3 years of general work experience or 4 years of college, or a combination of both. Applicants also must survive a week screening at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City which includes aptitude tests using computer simulators and physical and psychological examinations. Successful applicants receive drug screening tests. For airport tower and enroute center positions, applicants must be less than 31 years old. Those 31 years old and over are eligible for positions at flight service stations.
Trainees learn their craft through a combination of formal and on-the-job training. They receive 7 months of intensive training at the FAA academy, where they learn the fundamentals of the airway system, FAA regulations, controller equipment, aircraft performance characteristics, as well as more specialized tasks. To receive a job offer, trainees must successfully complete the training and pass a series of examinations, including a controller skills test that measures speed and accuracy in recognizing and correctly solving air traffic control problems. Based on aptitude and test scores, trainees are selected to work at either an enroute center or a tower.
Competition for air traffic controller jobs is expected to remain extremely keen because the occupation attracts many more qualified applicants than the small number of job openings stemming from growth of the occupation and replacement needs. Turnover is very low; because of the relatively high pay and liberal retirement benefits, controllers have a very strong attachment to the occupation. Most of the current work force was hired as a result of the controller's strike during the 1980's, so the average age of current controllers is fairly young. Most controllers will not be eligible to retire until 2006 or later.
Air traffic controllers who started with the FAA in 1997 earned about $29,500 a year. Controllers at higher Federal pay grade levels earned 5 percent more than other Federal workers in an equivalent grade. A controller's pay is determined by both the worker's job responsibilities and the complexity of the particular facility. Earnings are higher at facilities where traffic patterns are more complex. In 1997, controllers averaged about $46,000 a year.
Employment of air traffic controllers is expected to show little or no change through the year 2006. Employment growth is not expected to keep pace with growth in the number of aircraft flying because of the implementation of a new air traffic control system over the next 10 years. This computerized system will assist the controller by automatically making many of the routine decisions. Automation will allow controllers to handle more traffic, thus increasing their productivity.
Air traffic controllers who continue to meet the proficiency and medical requirements enjoy more job security than most workers. The demand for air travel and the workloads of air traffic controllers decline during recessions, but controllers seldom are laid off.
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