How to Become an Air Traffic Controller: Step-by-Step Guide

The Next FAA Air Traffic Controllers Hiring Window (2024 OTS bid)

The next air traffic controller hiring window for 2024 is scheduled to open between April 19-23. Candidates who wish to become air traffic controllers, without prior experience, can submit their application on USAJOBS.


Why Become An Air Traffic Controller?

Air traffic control (ATC) is a highly stressful but rewarding role, as air traffic controllers play a critical role in ensuring the safe and efficient movement of aircraft, both on the ground and in the air. In recent years, the FAA has been hiring an increasing number of entry-level Air Traffic Controllers, making this a great opportunity for those who find the job interesting and are seeking a high salary and great benefits, that doesn't require a degree.


3 Routes to Become An Air Traffic Controller

If you are interested to become an air traffic controller you can apply straight to FAA hiring bids open to the public (OTS bid) assuming you meet the minimal requirements. Other options are joining the military and becoming an air traffic controller in the army (air force/ navy), or obtaining an air traffic controller Bachelor’s degree at a Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) School.


FAA Requirements for Air Traffic Controllers

Based on the official Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Aviation Careers page, the eligibility requirements for submitting an Air Traffic Controller application are:

  • Being a USA citizen
  • Being younger than 31 years old (meaning you are still 30 or younger at the end of the application period)
  • Speaking English clearly.
  • Having three years of adequate work experience or a BA degree (or a combined total of at least three years of college education and work experience)
  • Being willing to relocate to an FAA facility.

Do you need a degree to become an Air Traffic Controller?

You can apply to become an air traffic controller as long as you meet the minimum FAA qualifications above. CTI graduates are still required to apply for the FAA OTS bid and go through the application process to become a certified air traffic controller. However, there are two advantages to CTI graduates: 

  • Candidates with a CTI certificate are three times more likely to pass the FAA Air Traffic Skills Assessment and application process (12.6% pass compared to 3.7% in the general population).
  • Since there is a shortage of air traffic controllers at airports and limited slots in the academy, CTI candidates who pass the FAA hiring process skip the ATC academy and go straight to on-the-job training.


The FAA Hiring Process for Air Traffic Controllers

The FAA hiring process for Air Traffic Controllers can take a long time, so candidates have to be patient. There are many steps between the first application and the first day of work, and some steps can take several months. 





The FAA Air Traffic Controller Application



Are you eligible to apply? Great! The first step is submitting an air traffic controller application to the FAA hiring bid on USAJobs. The OTS bid application window for inexperienced candidates opens once a year, usually between April-July. Start with building your application profile, and building your resume using the USAJobs resume builder to ensure your experience is calculated correctly.


Get more details on required documents for applications based on CTI, previous experience, or veterans’ preferences on the official FAA page.



The Air Traffic Skills Assessment (ATSA)



Candidates who  meet the minimum ATC application qualifications will receive an invitation to schedule and complete the ATSA, a challenging air traffic control pre-emplyment test. The test is taken in person at designated testing facilities, and lasts about 3.5 hours.

Many questions on the ATSA test are unique and will not be found in any other test. Preparation can be crucial, as only top scorers pass the ATSA and move on to the next stage (an estimated 3-6%). We highly recommend getting familiar with the test format and practicing as much as you can, preferably starting at least a month before the exam date.


ATSA Test Prep 

Master the ATSA to Become an FAA Air Traffic Controller.

Our experts have perfected a preparation course, helping candidates take the test at their best, feeling prepared and confident in their ability to pass, and improving their score with accurate simulations. Take a look at our extensive ATSA course and start preparing.

★ 4.9 (152 reviews) • 4,000+ already enrolled



Medical & Security Clearance



Once the ATSA scores are calculated, the highest-scoring candidates will receive a tentative offer letter (TOL). Those who accept and sign their TOL will receive entrance on duty system forms (EODS), which must be signed within five days. Afterwards, applicants are required to proceed through the following steps:

  • A security clearance
  • Federal background check
  • Drug testing
  • A Physical Exam
  • A psychological examination (MMPI2)
  • Medical Examination
  • Finger printing

This process may take up to 9 months, by which you will receive a Clearance of information letter (CIL).



FAA Air Traffic Controller Academy & Training



Training to become a certified Air Traffic Controller is long and may take up to 3-4 years overall, starting with passing the FAA academy:

The FAA Air Traffic Control Academy

New air traffic controller trainees must attend the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City for an intensive 3-5 months training program. This includes classroom instruction, simulations, and hands-on training. 


On the Job Training (OJT)

After graduating from the academy, air traffic control trainees are assigned to ATC facilities across the country, in which they undergo extensive 1-3 years of on-the-job training. Only then can they become a Certified Professional Controller (CPC).


FAA Air Traffic Controller Jobs

There are several types of Air Traffic Controller Jobs. After clearing the last stage of the FAA selection process before training (medical & security), you will be assigned to train in the academy for one of the following positions:

  • Enroute Air Traffic Controller Positions- ATCs in enroute facilities control large areas of airspace using radar, providing enroute services for planes that are enroute between airports.
  • Terminal Air Traffic Controller Positions- located in an Air Traffic controller tower, terminal ATCs are in charge of providing air traffic control services in the air and ground of the airport area, including aircraft landings, taxi and take-offs.
  • TRACON Air Traffic Controller Positions- provide arrival and departure air traffic services to and from the airports.


Air Traffic Controller Salary

The estimated average pay for air traffic controllers in the FAA is about 124,421$ per year (according to indeed). The air traffic controller salary range is wide, with most ATCs being paid between $73,590 to $189,800 annually. The expected salary depends on various factors such as the locality level (compensation for high-cost living areas), facility level (the complexity of airspace and operations the facility handles), and the ATC level of experience. Previous college/work experience does not influence ATC pay.



Based on the U.S. Department of Labor reports of air traffic controller pay in May 2022.


Premium pay rates are also added to air traffic controllers' pay for various factors such as holidays, night shifts, and overtime. 

Check ATC pay by facility and premium rates.


What is the expected ATC salary throughout training?

Air traffic controller trainees are paid 34,135$ - 35,273$ per year plus living expenses (102.80$ per day) during their time at the FAA Academy, and then receive a starting salary of $43,727 per year plus locality pay once they begin on-the-job training at an assigned facility after graduating (official FAA information). As entry-level air traffic controllers advance through their training, their base salary increases.


Air Traffic Controller Benefits

Air traffic controllers get a minimum of 23 vacation days per year. As they build seniority, that number jumps to 36. They also receive full health, vision, and dental coverage, along with life insurance, savings plan and a comprehensive retirement plan.

More about these benefits and perks on the official FAA page



Air Traffic Controller FAQs

How Long Does It Take to Become an Air Traffic Controller?

The FAA Air Traffic Controller hiring process and training varies significantly from candidate to candidate and can last up to 2 years. Reaching a Certified Professional Controller (CPC) status can take up to 6 years.

Is It Difficult to Become an Air Traffic Controller?

Becoming an air traffic controller is hard, since the application and training process is highly demanding and competitive, taking up to 2 years that include aptitude, psychological, and physical assessments. Those who make it to the academy are expected undergo challenging selection tests.

Can I Be an Air Traffic Controller After 31?

In the US, you have to be under 31 to apply to be an air traffic controller. However, if you have at least one full year of ATC work experience (FAA, civilian, or military), you can apply even if you're older than 31.

Why do Air Traffic Controllers have to be under 31?

The ATC age limit set by the FAA guarantees Air Traffic Controllers gain 25 years of experience qualifying them for a federal pension, before they have to retire at the age of 56 (due to safety regulations). The only exception to the air traffic control age limit is for former military air traffic controllers, who are allowed to begin work with the FAA even if they are older than 31.

Is There a Demand for Air Traffic Controllers?

There is a very high demand for air traffic controllers, and the number of vacancies grows every year, with many FAA facilities becoming short of staff. In 2023, 1500 air traffic controllers were recruited, and the FAA's goal for 2024 is 1800 new recruits.

What Are Pool 1 and Pool 2 Candidates?

After applying for an Air Traffic open position, candidates are divided into two pools according to their prior experience.

Pool 1 consists of:

  • Graduates from an institution participating in the Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) program who has received an appropriate recommendation.
  • Veterans eligible for a Veterans Recruitment Appointment (VRA) and who can provide a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty within 120 days of the announcement closing.
  • Eligible veterans maintaining aviation experience obtained in the course of his/her military experience and/or a veteran entitled to veterans' preference.

Pool 2 consists of all other eligible U.S. citizens who do not meet the requirements for Pool 1.


What Skills Are Needed for an Air Traffic Controller?

According to the FAA website, an air traffic controller should have strong Active Listening and Speaking skills, Critical Thinking, Judgment and Decision Making, and Complex Problem-Solving abilities. Moreover, ATC specialists should have the following skills: Monitoring, Coordination, Reading Comprehension, Time Management, Social Perceptiveness, Service Orientation, Active Learning, Systems Analysis, and Writing skills.


Have more questions about becoming an air traffic controller? feel free to email us, we are always happy to help.


Not what you were looking for?