Apr 18, 2024 - Economy

Now hiring: Air traffic controllers

Illustration of a plane on a runway that reads "now hiring"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Federal Aviation Administration is looking to hire a new batch of air traffic controllers amid a push to beef up staffing at many of the country's towers and other air traffic control (ATC) facilities.

Why it matters: Wannabe air traffic controllers don't need a degree — meaning the job may appeal to the many young Americans who are turning to trade and vocational work instead of a college education, as Axios' Erica Pandey reports.

Driving the news: The FAA's new air traffic controller hiring window is open from April 19-22.

  • Applicants must have U.S. citizenship, English language proficiency, and pass medical, security and other pre-employment tests and checks.
  • They also need to be younger than 31 (controllers must retire at 56, so the applicant age rule helps ensure that newbies have a long career).

By the numbers: The agency wants to hire 1,800 controllers this year and 2,000 in 2025.

How it works: Selected applicants undergo initial training at an FAA facility in Oklahoma City.

  • Succeed there, and you'll be sent for further on-the-job training at an air traffic control tower or radar facility.
  • Those who excel in primary training have better odds of being assigned to a facility of their choosing.

Caveat: Many trainees wash out along the way, and there's always the risk of developing a disqualifying medical condition later in life.

Between the lines: The FAA is also looking to boost ATC staffing by working with aviation colleges to rethink the college-to-controller pipeline.

What they're saying: One of the highlights of the gig, Minneapolis approach and departure control supervisor Dawne Barrett tells Axios, is the teamwork involved — not to mention the health benefits and government pension.

  • "We're constantly working together for the same goal: to get people from point A to point B safely," Barrett says.

Reality check: Being an air traffic controller can be a stressful job with sometimes-difficult scheduling that can take a toll on controllers' mental health.

  • The FAA is investigating the issue of controller fatigue following a series of New York Times articles spotlighting understaffing issues that have led "many controllers to work 10-hour days, six days a week," per the Times.

The other side: "I'm not naive to the fact that our job isn't a little stressful. We deal with human lives, and we impact the safety of others every day, day in and day out," Barrett says.

  • "We can't deny that fact, but that's part of what makes our job so awesome. We do have a great responsibility out there to help others, and that is not something that you're necessarily going to get in other places."
  • "But you definitely have to take care of yourself. That's important, but I'd say no more important in this job than it is anywhere else."
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