Home » Career Resources » How To Become » What Does an Air Traffic Controller Do? (Full Guide)

What Does an Air Traffic Controller Do? (Full Guide)

what does an air traffic controller do

Are you interested in qualifying to become an Air Traffic Controller

This is an advanced job that comes with a lot of responsibility. It involves managing aircraft within a set airspace through all types of operations. While this job can be very interesting, it can also be extremely stressful. You need to complete the necessary training and be able to concentrate for long periods.

 So, let’s take a closer look at ‘what does an Air Traffic Controller do?’

Duties And Responsibilities

There is a wide range of duties that can be associated with this job. The tasks you are assigned will depend on your employer and where you work. Here are some of the general duties and responsibilities that typically go with this role.

Before take-off

You will receive a flight plan from each airline that operates in the airspace you oversee. You will need to study these carefully and make sure they do not overlap. Once a pilot boards an aircraft, you will then be in contact with the pilot from the control tower. You will make sure the runway is clear and give the pilot permission for takeoff.

In the air

Once the aircraft is airborne, you will use the airways system to track its progress. Once the aircraft reaches the edge of your sector, you will coordinate the handover with the next controller. You need to make sure that this process goes as smoothly as possible.

Other duties and responsibilities include:

  • Informing pilots about weather conditions.
  • Controlling ground traffic on runways and taxiways.
  • Issuing landing instructions.
  • Accepting control of arriving flights.
  • Alerting airport response staff about aircraft emergencies.

Types Of Air Traffic Controllers

There are several different types of roles that you could apply for. Each of these roles comes with specific duties and responsibilities. Here are the main types of roles that you can apply for. 

Approach Controller

Approach Controller

These people usually work at airports or in area control centers. They are charged with managing approaching aircraft and providing initial clearance to approach. They have to organize all approaching aircraft into a sequence to create an efficient landing order. These professionals use instrument landing systems to allow some aircraft to make automatic landings. 

Aerodrome Controller

Also known as Tower Controllers, these professionals work in the control towers of airports. This allows them to have an uninterrupted view of the whole aerodrome. The main responsibility is safely moving aircraft between stands and runways in the aerodrome. They also assess the right time to give pilots clearance for takeoff. 

Area Controller

These are based at a control center and manage aircraft at higher altitudes. They are responsible for the aircraft during its climb, descent, and en-route phase to the next controller. Area controllers also issue speeds, levels, and headings to keep aircraft safely at separate levels within their assigned airspace area. 

RAF and Royal Navy Air Operations Control Officer

These controllers work on a military base and handle landings and takeoffs. They are also responsible for making sure that air bases are properly prepared to handle emergencies. When civilian aircraft pass through the airspace, they communicate and coordinate with civilian air authorities. 

The Work Environment 

The Work Environment 

Most Air Traffic Controllers are employed by the Federal Aviation Administration. The role can take place in an approach control facility, control tower, or an en-route center. Departure and approach controllers often work in semi-dark rooms and spend time studying radar screens.

Most people work full-time, while some work additional hours. Standard shifts typically run for nine or ten hours and can include evenings and weekends. It is necessary to be available to work a wide range of different shift patterns. 

What Does An Air Traffic Controller Do? – Job Requirements

It is necessary to be at least eighteen years old and be fluent in English to apply for this role. Applicants need to be US citizens and pass the set coursework and tests. Let’s take a closer look at the set requirements for this role. 


It is necessary to earn a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree through an AT-CTI program. Accepted fields of study include engineering, transportation, and business. The FAA sets the guidelines for accredited programs, and they last from two to four years. 

While the curriculum for these programs is not standardized, it prepares students for work as an Air Traffic controller. The courses include a wide range of topics that are essential to aviation. These include reading charts, aviation weather, federal regulations, clearances, and airspace. 


Once you secure a role, you will receive additional training at the FAA Academy, which is located in Oklahoma City. You will then be assigned to an air traffic control facility, where you will work as a development controller. This involves providing pilots with airport information and basic flight data. You will gradually be assigned advanced positions in the control room as you gain more experience. 



You will usually need to earn an Air Traffic Control Tower Operator Certificate before starting work. The training program for the certification lasts for 52 weeks and consists of three separate phases. The certification proves that you have the necessary knowledge and hands-on experience to do the job well.

Less Stressful Aviation Work!

A career as an Air Traffic Controller is said to be one of the most stressful aviation jobs, and for good reason! So, if you have a passion for aviation, but don’t want the stress, then why not work for an airline and travel the world by checking out our in-depth guide to the Korean Air Application, the British Airways Application, and the Cathay Pacific Airlines Application?

But that’s not all! We also have our guides to the Ethiad Airways Application, the US Airways Application, the Emirates Application, the Hawaiin Airlines Application, and the Qatar Airways Application in 2023.

If you’d prefer more in-depth information, then you’ll like our guides to the United Airlines Application and the American Airlines Application, along with the most common United Airline Interview Questions and most frequently asked American Airlines Interview Questions to make sure yore fully prepared for your big day.

What Does An Air Traffic Controller Do? – Final Thoughts

It takes a lot of time and dedication to qualify for the role of Air Traffic Controller. You will need to complete the set higher education courses and gain the necessary certification. Not only will this provide you with the necessary skills, but it will also prove you can rise to the challenge of the job. 

Your hard work and dedication will be rewarded with a very competitive salary. The average annual wage for this role is around $130,000. Once you have gained experience, you could easily earn at least $185,000 per year.

Good luck with your career in Aviation!

5/5 - (42 votes)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top