One of the jobs that have generated much attention recently is air traffic controller. The position has been named as one of the top-paying jobs in the world, but it requires lower education compared to jobs paying similar amounts. However, the job requires a lot of effort and not everyone can handle it. Air traffic controllers face many stressful situations and they might be forced to make life or death decisions when working under extreme pressure.
So, what does an air traffic controller do?
Air traffic controllers direct the safe movement of airplanes departing and arriving in airports along with major traffic routes. “They maintain radar/radio contact with pilots of aircraft within a designated area and give advice and instructions to the pilots,” says Steve Abraham, an air traffic controller working for National Air Traffic Controllers Association. “The information and instructions relate to the weather conditions, descent and ascent paths, and safe flight,” he states.
Air traffic controllers specialize in area control, aerodrome control, approach control and the specialization determines the type of communication with airplanes. “While you can state your preference, your specialization will highly depend on the needs of the company you choose,” states Abraham.
Mostly, air traffic controllers specialize in area control and they work from an area control center. They are usually responsible for the air traffic between various airports in the country. In other words, they track and guide the airplanes flying at very high altitudes through a sector and they work at a regional control center.
Approach controllers work from control towers situated at the airports. They guide planes as they depart and land at the airport. Aerospace controllers work in airport control towers too. They work alongside the approach controllers to guide planes as they take off and land. Furthermore, they guide the pilots to taxi positions on the runways and stands.
The World’s Most Stressful Job? The Real Life of an Air Traffic Controller
As we have already said, air traffic controllers ensure that every airplane takes off, flies, and lands smoothly. They also make sure that many planes can fly at once safely, meaning that should never make mistakes. For that reason, their training is intensive and you have to fulfill many requirements to be accepted into training.
The training of controllers takes several years and only 1 percent of the applicants qualify. Initially, a controller spends around 12 months studying theoretical and practical parts of air traffic control in a specialist college. The training covers subjects like Air Aviation Law, Weather, and Air Traffic Control.
Air traffic controller training is hard and there are many rules and regulations to memorize. “A controller must be calm, confident, resilient and someone who thinks in three dimensions,” Abraham states. “They have to speak to pilots, judge the trajectory of the aircraft through the air regarding level, heading, and speed,” he adds.
After walking into any air traffic control tower, you will realize that it is calm and peaceful. There is no standing up or shouting because controllers have to go about their jobs professionally and calmly. They must also work as a team.
So, Is Air Traffic Control the Most Stressful Job in the World?
Most people have different views on this. “It is not the world’s most responsible job, but it is highly stressful at times,” says Abraham. “It can be quiet and dull at night when the controller has to sit for around 8 hours and maintain alertness, but the traffic builds up when they get very tired.” “A controller has to cope with the shifts,” he says.
While they mostly work full time, they may work for additional hours and they have to stay alert all the time. FAA requires air traffic controllers to work for less than 10 hours between shifts and take at least 9 hours of rest before the next shift.
However, controllers work for 1-2 hours per shift to maintain concentration and take a 30 minutes break. They rotate shifts among night, evening, and day because most control facilities work continuously. Less busy airports have less busy control towers and the controllers have standard work schedules. “You should forget Christmas days, important facility occasions, and birthdays,” says Abraham.
In event of bad weather, high traffic level, or an emergency, the job will be stressful. However, controllers are trained to deal with any condition. In addition to the training they get in school, they are also continuously trained to keep up with the changing trends and prepare for infrequent scenarios.
Air Controller Job is as We Have Been Told?
The job of an air controller is not as easy as you might have watched in TV shows or movies but still, it is not as stressful or as hard as you might think. The roles are challenging and they require individuals with technical knowledge, complete focus at all times, and organization skills. Air traffic controllers are responsible for the safe and smooth passage of aircraft around airports and heavy traffic routes. They coordinate the landings and take-offs of many aircraft simultaneously.
“After becoming an air controller, you will maintain radio contact with aircraft, provide information about visibility conditions, and the weather,” states Stephen, an air controller with the FAA. “You will use radar technologies to track routes of aircraft and offer guidance when necessary.” “You will have to use your expert knowledge to help pilots attain the optimum speed, altitude, and cruising level and take charge of unforeseen complications and emergencies,” he says.
One big benefit of being an air controller is that you will retire early. In most states, air traffic controllers have to work for 20-30 years before getting their retirement benefits. “Most airports do not want their controllers to work in older years because their mental abilities decrease in old years and that may increase the chances of accidents,” claims Andreas, a career educator. Air traffic controllers also benefit from discounts when traveling.
Air Traffic Controller Salary: Is It Good?
When it comes to air traffic controller salary, this industry is among the well paid. The median salary stood at $124,540 in 2017 and nearly 10 percent of air controllers earned over $175,000. The median salary refers to the mid-point salary in the industry, meaning that some air traffic controllers earn below $124,540.
The salary is as low as $50,000 per year. The states are mostly in the upper Midwest and South and they include Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, North Dakota, Louisiana, and Connecticut. Air traffic controllers in the UK earn around £52,400 gross per year on average.
Reasons You Should Be an Air Traffic Controller
The job of an air traffic controller is stressful and exhausting but becoming one may be a good reason. First, you will earn a good amount of money. Actually, most controllers make a six-figure income each year and some do not have a college degree.
Secondly, being an air controller is exciting. “You will always know that thousands of individuals rely on your judgment to travel from one place to the other fast and safely,” says Stephen, an air traffic controller with the FAA. “This can be exciting, particularly in the beginning because you will have to focus a lot and learn new things from the experienced air traffic controllers,” he claims.
Thirdly, air traffic controllers have a high social status. “People know that your job is quite demanding and your services are important to society,” says Stephen. “Some will envy you because they secretly wanted to work in the field but they did not make it.” “Many people will admire you and boost your feeling,” Stephen adds.
Furthermore, air controllers get discounts on most flights. “If you develop a good connection with people in your organization, you are likely to get discounts on every flight for private purposes,” claims Stephen. “In turn, all your vacations will be cheaper and you may travel to many fancy places you would never visit without the perks,” he states.
As always, to make a decision about what career to choose you have to reflect on who you are and what your skills are. You know best what you like, what you are good at and your priorities in life.