How to Become an Air Traffic Controller

An overview of the air traffic control application and hiring process in the U.S.

If you've found this page, you're on a promising path. Air traffic control is a very unique and rewarding career. It is relatively unknown but highly sought after due to excellent pay, benefits, and job security. However, getting hired is not quite as simple as submitting your résumé. This page will help explain the hiring process and guide you through the first steps.

Employers

FAA Hiring Announcements

The FAA does not continuously accept applications for air traffic controllers. Instead, they intermittently post hiring announcements (AKA "bids"). The applicants to each hiring announcement are processed as a batch and the FAA may end up hiring as many as a few thousand qualified applicants from a single announcement. The FAA releases two types of hiring announcements:

How to Apply to an All-Sources Bid

All of the FAA's hiring announcements are posted on the federal government's official USAJobs website. To apply, you will need to create an account and build your profile. It is recommended that you create your resume using the resume builder on USAJobs, rather than simply uploading an existing resume. Here are some things to expect about the job announcement:

When is the Next Hiring Announcement?

The FAA does not typically give much, if any, advanced notice. There are often rumors that begin to circulate soon before an announcement occurs, but no one knows for sure until it is posted on USAJobs. One way to estimate when the next hiring announcement will occur is to consider the dates of the previous announcements. The most recent all-sources bids occurred in:

As you can see, there has been all-sources announcement approximately once per year. From this trend, it is possible to approximate the next hiring bid, but there are no guarantees. If you have an account on USAJobs, you can save a job search and receive an email whenever new results are found. Your search terms could simply include "air traffic control" or "2152", which is the government's job series code for air traffic control positions. We are also happy to let you know when there is a new announcement if you provide your email address below:

Requirements

The requirements below have been simplified from previous hiring announcements. Future hiring announcements are likely to be the same or very similar. The requirements are rigid, but there are several ways to qualify.

Conditions of Employment

Qualifications

There are many ways to qualify for this type of hiring announcement. Applicants must fit into either pool:

Pool 1
  1. Be a graduate from a participating Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) program and receive a recommendation; or
  2. Be an eligible veteran.
Pool 2
  1. Document 3 years of full time (40 hours per week) work experience; or
  2. Document a full 4-year course of study leading to a bachelor's degree; or
  3. Document some combination of work experience and education equivalent to the above; or
  4. Applicants may also qualify with specialized work experience as a controller, with a dispatcher certificate, an instrument flight rating, a navigator certificate, or 350 hours of flight time as a copilot or higher.

What to Expect After Applying

Everyone who meets the minimum qualifications for employment is essentially on even footing. Someone with a 3 years of work experience at a fast food restaurant will have the same opportunity as an experienced airline pilot!

The next step in the hiring process in the Air Traffic Skills Assessment (ATSA), an aptitude test. This test is the real differentiator in who will receive an offer for employment and who will not. In previous hiring cycles, applicants have been notified via email that they have been selected to take the ATSA approximately 8-10 weeks after the closing date for a hiring announcement. The email will contain instructions for scheduling your test at a supervised testing center.

Preparing for the ATSA

The ATSA is composed of several sub-tests designed to assess skills such as memory, spatial/visual awareness, logic, and reading. It is highly advisable to prepare for the ATSA using test prep software such as Job Test Prep. The ATSA is intimidating and competitive, but like any test, you can prepare for it and improve your performance by practicing and by knowing what to expect. This test is the gateway to a great career, so it makes sense to earnestly and thoroughly prepare for it.