Most, when they think of becoming an air traffic controller, imagine the fast-paced office environment, the critical decision-making, the most advanced technologies in the United States, and, of course, the nice sized salaries. However, what may not occur to those new to the field is that air traffic controllers undergo a lengthy process of education, ensuring that American skies are manned and controlled by only the most qualified for the job.

How to Become an Air Traffic Controller

There are various pathways that applicants take in learning how to be an air traffic controller. Air traffic controllers are educated in a vastly different way than most career paths. In the United States there is only one 'hub' or training center for potential air traffic controllers. This is located in Oklahoma City, OK. However, getting to the training center in Oklahoma City requires that potential air traffic controllers gain entry through a gathered points system.

The FAA Academy requires that all candidates amass a point total which gives them a 'rating'. There are many ways that potential students can gain these points and ratings. Possessing a four year degree from an accredited college or university is one way to do that. The choice of degree can also give you additional points. Those graduating from a four year college with related degrees are given additional credits. Those who have served previously in the military as air traffic controllers, pilots, or as navigators are also given preference. Work experience in the aviation field is also of benefit. Likewise, those who opt for a shortened version, rather than a four year college degree, can obtain an AA degree from an accredited university, college, or community college in air traffic control. Degrees in air traffic controlling are given preferential treatment, and can garner additional points toward admittance.

Process to Become an Air Traffic Controller

After gaining the required ratings for entry into the FAA Academy, there is still an application process which must be followed in order to be an air traffic controller. Applicants must pass a written test that will give the training facility an insight into the candidate's capabilities to withstand the training and the pressures of the job. There is an age limit as well. Applicants must be no older than 31. Candidates should prepare for a wait, as the application process and review can take as long as 6 months. The good news? If accepted into the school there is no tuition to be paid. The tuition and training fees are covered, courtesy of the U.S. Government.

Most of the training takes 2-3 years to complete, but at the end of the training graduates are guaranteed job placements, with an average starting salary of around $80,000. Upon completion of the training, newly appointed air traffic controllers are sent to their first assignments throughout the United States. Controllers are a civilian branch of the government and, as such, have limited input into where they may be stationed. Most first time controllers are started out in smaller airports and are advanced with time and experience, and as opportunities arise.