One of the most rewarding career paths that any individual can pursue is to become an air traffic controller. Protecting the nation's airports from disaster and controlling traffic in major transportation hubs across the nation, make this job demanding and, yet, one of the most rewarding. And, in an economy whose employment numbers are stagnant, this area in the job sector has remained steady and has even shown a marked increase.

Air Traffic Control Job Outlook

In general, the characteristics that make an air traffic controller good at his or her job is that they are good with numbers, facts, figures, are good under pressure and have very good memories. And they are paid handsomely for increased mental abilities.

In addition, those who become air traffic controllers are expected to stay in peak physical health and even those older controllers who start to suffer from hypertension or other disorders may find themselves retired early. Most air traffic controllers begin work when they are in their early to mid-twenties and retire in their early to mid-fifties. Air traffic controllers are expected to be excellent communicators, using English as a first language. Or if English is not the first language, then a top level proficiency is expected.

Job Specifications for Air Traffic Controllers

There are two levels that controllers work from. The first is that of the 'en route' controller. The en route controller handles the air traffic that occurs at the upper altitudes. These areas are divided into sections or sectors of the sky. Each one sector is monitored by one controller. Generally, most use radar to assist them in this task. These controllers work at Air Route Traffic Control Centers located in most major airports.

Most think that air flight controllers only work directly with pilots and aircraft in the air, but there are many positions that are filled within the air control tower. Some of those positions include workers in the tower, flight date/deliver, and approach.

Tower controllers are those most are familiar with. They deal with planes taking off and landing, clearances and authorizing planes on the runways. Flight Data/Clearance Deliver controllers include personnel who deal with flight data from the planes, clearance delivery, flight plan clearances, those planes that are already on the ground and about to take off. Those that work on ground control deal with planes that are taxiing, moving from one terminal to the next and to other movement areas. Last, but not least, are those controllers who deal with approaching aircraft. They deal with planes that are already in the area and are preparing to land. So as you can see, each phase of an aircraft's time is carefully and closely monitored. With that said, then, it is no wonder that there are more than 200,000 controllers in the US alone.

Exceptions to this, of course, are those controllers who work for the military. Most military groups have their own enlisted controllers, who operate separately from civilian controllers. This is true for the United States, but in countries outside of America, often it is only the military who direct air traffic.

Air traffic controllers must hold an air traffic control license as well as go through a great deal of training before they are employable. Most of that training can often consist of classroom and on the job training, and take as much as 3 or more years to complete. Towers and airports are functional 24/7 and so there are various shifts that controllers may experience. Nights, weekends, holidays are not necessarily sacred when it comes to this job. Generally, controllers monitor a sector for up to three hours at a time, and are then given a break of about half an hour. This, of course, can fluctuate from airport to airport and, of course, would depend on the size of the airport.

The competition for air traffic controllers is intense, ensuring that if you are going to become an air traffic controller that you'd better be the best. And in the end, only the best should be in control of one of the nation's most sensitive industries.