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Feasibility/possibility of switching careers to become an ATC professional

Fri Mar 20, 2020 7:44 am

Let's call this a "thought experiment," As such, I have to distort one aspect of reality. If you will humor me:

    - Let's begin this premise that the current situation with Covid-19 doesn't/didn't/won't exist. It's commercial aviation as normal in Q3 2019 and is on the same trajectory.
    - An reader, in his late 30's, has had a successful career in IT/Software Development.
    - He'll never be an ATP (that ship has sailed, no $$$ for that, and keeping a 1st-class medical? Nope)..
    - This person is very curious as to what it would take, if it's possible or even realistic, to take a chance and say "I'd like to switch my career, and become an Air Traffic Controller."

Anyway, I had been planning on posting this "thought experiment" on behalf of "my friend" whom was curious about this for over a year. I know there are some ATC folks here. If any of you chime in: Thank you. I wish I had posted this 6 months ago, and any thoughtful insights from those in the know will be genuinely appreciated.

Unfortunately this is now a "fantasy" post so responses gotta factor out the current Covid-19 situation. Questions:

    -What was the demand like 6 months ago?
    -What would the training regimen be like, from ground zero? Expensive? How long?
    -Would he likely need to quit his full-time job to go through this training?
    -Is there a demand for new ATC employees? [Covid disclaimer!]

Cheers, and stay safe everyone.
"..your eyes will be forever turned skyward, for there.." yeah we know the DaVinci quote. But GA is so dang expensive these days! :(
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Joined: Fri Jul 28, 2000 3:19 am

Re: Feasibility/possibility of switching careers to become an ATC professional

Fri Mar 20, 2020 12:50 pm

I think there is a max age to get in the ATC program of 35. Check the website for the program. That may be your answer.

Good luck if you make the qualifications. I've know a few controllers through the years and many have really liked their jobs.
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Joined: Sat Jun 25, 2005 12:56 am

Re: Feasibility/possibility of switching careers to become an ATC professional

Fri Mar 20, 2020 3:59 pm

Here is all the information you'll need to answer some of your questions......but at late 30's you cannot get into ATC with the FAA and most likely will not qualify for the Federal Contract Tower (FCT) program although I'm not 100% sure of the FCT. ... n_careers/ ... r_program/

Just an FYI for all, as retired ATC'er for just over seven years after 36 years controlling in the terminal option including four in the military with the last 29 years at IAH Tower/TRACON then just TRACON (I90) after tower/TRACON became split facilities meaning we no longer wold be qualified dual qualified to work up and down here is my take.

The career was incredible in every aspect. No two days the same so never got bored. Excellent benefits and pay, though pay is based upon a number of elements such as complexity of the traffic, surrounding ATC facilities, traffic numbers, locality pay and more. As a pilot who was never going to get hired by corporate or airline due to not enough hours it allowed me to still be in the mix and also got to tell the pilot where to go! :) Shift work did not bother me at all, in fact liked to as many times my weekend fell in the middle of the week so lots of time to do things (travel, golf, gym etc.) while other folks were at work If I had to do it all over again I would certainly go for it as it was very rewarding and fulfilling.

As for the last part of your post and questions, I will respond to what I know when I retired keeping in mind some of this may have changed.

Demand 6 months ago.....As in traffic demand or demand on you personally?
Training............................From ground zero you would go though the ATC Academy in OKC for about four-six months and be paid a salary while in school plus per diem. Take a look here, ... ademy_faq/
Quit job.............................For sure as training is very intense and pass/fail.
Demand for ATC..............When I was working always seemed short of controllers and in fact were. Retirement of controllers right about now is pretty high due to 56 year age requirement.

Hope some of this helps answer questions and I'm sure others either currently employed as controllers or recently retired controllers here on will offer other thoughts.
Any views shared are strictly my own and do not a represent those of any former employer.
Posts: 162
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Re: Feasibility/possibility of switching careers to become an ATC professional

Sun Mar 29, 2020 6:22 pm

Unless he has previous military experience, you have to be in before your 31st birthday.

ATC is a great career but this is not something I would ever plan on without having a serious backup plan. Hiring bids are infrequent (about annually right now), the hiring process is long, and then if you do get it then the training is the worst part. When I went through the academy, about half weren't making it out. Then you obviously had your real training at the facility to make it through.

I'll add this too...I'm en route. I've seen a lot of lower level tower transfers when they are in their late 30's and even early 40's. They all struggle. I don't know if it's because of their age or they just have set ways of doing things (which none of what they did in the tower applies to en route but you hear them tell you their war stories all the time as if they matter) or maybe a combination of the two but this is definitely something I would want to get done (& by done I mean training completed) by the time I'm 30.

Of course all of this is my personal opinion.

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