Air traffic controllers coordinate the movement of aircraft to maintain safe distances between the aircraft. It is an important job that sees folks working on military bases, civilian air fields, and even private air fields. They work in control towers, approach control facilities, and route centers.

Enter veteran of the military, someone who is a great fit to become an Air Traffic Controller. They can follow orders, understand safety protocols and how to uphold safety protocols, and understand how to mitigate casualties if need be. As an Air Traffic Controller, those who are leaving military service are uniquely positioned to understand the severity and possible stress of the role.

The Value Veterans Bring To Air Traffic Control

There are a number of transferrable skills that veterans bring to being an Air Traffic Controller. We will break down each of the following values that veterans bring:

  • Dependability
  • Self Discipline
  • Organization
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    Rule & Detail Oriented


In order to monitor and direct the movement of aircraft, the person in the role needs to be very dependable. Folks who are leaving the military can be very dependable. Whatever branch of the military you are in you are taught to be dependable for your squad, unit, or group.

Being dependable sometimes means being able to multitask, informing one pilot of current weather conditions, while being able to direct an aircraft toward an arrival zone. It also means that you need to consider the safety of multiple individuals including crew on the ground and crew in the air.

It is imperative that those who become Air Traffic Controllers are dependable.

Self Discipline

Those who want to become Air Traffic Controllers need to have self discipline. Self discipline is a skill that many folks leaving active service should be well familiar with. To get through the rigors of military service a person must have a large level of self discipline. The same is true for those who wish to become Air Traffic Controllers.

The sheer number of things that can go wrong means that Air Traffic Controllers need a high level of self discipline. You have to be able to process multiple forms of information and choose a correct course of action. For example, managing multiple aircraft at a time requires self discipline.


If you are just leaving the military, chances are you are probably organized due to the way in which the military operates. This is a skillset that comes in handy for Air Traffic Controller as they need to be very organized to handle multiple aircraft at a time.

Air Traffic Controllers that work in tower control centers need to be able to direct the movement of vehicles that include aircraft on runways and taxiways. They need to be able to check flight plans, and give different pilots clearance for takeoff or landing. They need to understand the schedules of pilots, weather, and need to be aware of a variety of factors that could cause delays in the air.

Organization can also help with the decision making process for an Air Traffic Controller. Air Traffic Controllers take into account multiple flight trajectories, and routes that aircraft are taking. Organization skills help them decide which planes to adjust, and which planes to keep on their original course. The ability to parse through all of this information would not be possible without organization skills.

Rule & Detail Oriented

Different regiments of the armed forces have different sets of routines and rule sets in place to cover grooming, how one carries themselves around those of higher ranks, and ultimately a code. Similarly, Air Traffic Controllers have a set of responsibilities and protocol for escalating a situation.

For instance, if there is an emergency unfolding, an Air Traffic Controller must be able to report on the situation accurately, and must communicate with effective language the situation that is occurring. Knowing the code for situations and proper escalation protocols is necessary for an Air Traffic Controller.

Benefits Of Being An Air Traffic Controller

Being an Air Traffic Controller has a number of benefits that we think those leaving the military will probably enjoy. The benefits of becoming an Air Traffic Controller are as follows:

  • Challenging Work Environment
  • Air Traffic Controller Salary
  • Positive Job Growth
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    Rule & Detail Oriented

Challenging Work Environment

Working as an Air Traffic Controller can be quite challenging. The environments Air Traffic Controllers work in are usually in control towers, approach facilities, or en route centers. The rooms of these spaces are usually dimly lit so the Air Traffic Controllers can monitor lights and radar screens.

Air Traffic Control work can be quite stressful at times because of the the number of people you are responsible for keeping safe. We think those leaving the military are an excellent fit for this environment because they are used to this form of stress being placed on them. Being conditioned in this form of environment might give veterans the ability to work in this challenging environment.

Air Traffic Controller Salary

Working as an Air Traffic Controller can actually generate quite a bit of wealth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median Air Traffic Controller salary was $124,540 in 2017. On the the lower end, Air Traffic Controllers can expect to make around $67,000 per year, while on the higher end Air Traffic Controllers can expect to make $175,000.

The amount of money you can make as an Air Traffic Controller increases as you complete multiple levels of training. You can find a full explanation of the pay ranges Air Traffic Controllers can expect on the FFA Aviation’s Career Page.

Positive Job Growth

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for Air Traffic Controllers are expected to grow by 3% by 2026. While this may not be as high as chemical engineer’s job growth, it is still a respectable amount of growth.

The caveat to job growth, is that this is a very competitive field to get into. Thankfully, preference is given in this field to folks who have worked in some capacity in the military because those individuals are seen as more reliable and trustworthy.

Education Pipeline

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While those leaving the military will love the benefits of working as an Air Traffic Controller, and the skill sets that they have that they will transfer over, the education pipeline is realistically a bit of a mixed bag.  If you did not have a chance to learn specific air traffic control skills in the military, then you can take the following routes to getting a job as an Air Traffic Controller:

  • Bachelor’s Degree
  • FAA Academy

Bachelor’s Degree

You will need to obtain a bachelor’s degree from an AT-CTI affiliated program. You must also have 3 years of work experience that show growing responsibility over the years. We believe folks leaving the military will be able to take on this challenge and will be able to reference their time in the military as work that covers the 3 years of work experience needed.

FAA Academy

If you don’t want to go the university route you could attempt to earn a degree through the Federal Aviation Administration. After earning a degree through the FAA you are assigned to an air traffic control facility as a developmental controller. You must then complete all of the requirements necessary to become an air traffic controller.

Additional Requirements

There are additional requirements that exist even after you earn a degree. You will also need to make sure you meet the following requirements

  • Be a US citizen
  • Pass a medical evaluation, drug screening, and background test
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    Pass FAA pre employment test
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    Pass Air Traffic Controller Specialist Skills Assessment Battery
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    Compete training course at the FAA before the age of 31

Air Traffic Controllers Do Important Work

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Air traffic controllers help keep the airspace safe by being responsible for directing different craft around the airspace and in air near runways. We believe there are a number of skills that make those coming out of the military excellent candidates for becoming an Air Traffic Controller. Dependability, self discipline, organization skills, and being rule and detail oriented will help veterans succeed as air traffic controllers.

There are benefits to working as an Air Traffic Controller that include a challenging work environment, and a respectable amount of job growth for the years to come. Although the field is competitive, it is a steady and consistent job. The Air Traffic Controller salary is also quite high.

Lastly, veterans have two options for becoming an Air Traffic Controller. You can either go to university and get a degree form an FAA affiliated program, or you can get a degree directly from the FAA. You will need to pass additional requirements in order to successfully land a job as an Air Traffic Controller.

Being an Air Traffic Controller is excellent work that folks who have worked in the military will probably excel at.

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