Air traffic controller training encompasses a wide array of tests, both physical and mental. The training process is often touted as being as rigorous as those administered to potential candidates to the CIA or FBI, insuring that those managing the U.S. skies are truly the most capable and most qualified. Those who have mastered the pre-academy educational requirements (or those who have prior military experience) must still undergo additional testing and training before obtaining work as an air traffic controller.
Air Traffic Controller Training - Physical
The physical demands of the job require that all candidates, and subsequent employees, be in the best of physical condition. Applicants cannot be older than 31 years of age. Those with hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses will not be admitted to the program. While this may seem harsh and prejudicial at first, consider that the safety of millions of people will be riding on the air traffic controller's decisions in the control tower. Someone who misses a lot of work due to illness, or conversely someone who is prone to heart related issues, may jeopardize the safety of air travelers.
A medical exam is required as part of the pre-application process. A candidate must be able to withstand physical stress and be able to pass a simple physical. Those who are suffering from gross obesity, or suffering from eating disorders of any kind, would not be admitted to the program. Additionally, those who routinely abuse illegal substances, such as narcotics, would also be released from the application process.
Air Traffic Controller Training - Educational
The pre-application test that a potential controller must take will test the applicant's aptitude to actually do the job. It tests criteria utilizing memory, decision making skills, environmental awareness, and ability to remain focused for long periods of time. If the applicant passes this, then the training really begins.
Those who begin the training process will undergo a rigorous regimen, consisting of on the job training and class time. This training takes 12 weeks and during that time the candidate will experience the basics of controlling, which includes the airway systems, FAA regulations, the specialized equipment used in the job, computer programs, and depending on the candidate's personal abilities, there may be additional specialized tasks assigned. Once this is finished, however, the training is not complete.
The training continues on-site at an actual airport. Here the candidate will learn hands-on controlling and will be considered a developmental air traffic controller. This can take anywhere from 2-4 years if the candidate has had no previous experience with aircraft. This early training includes communicating with the pilots and relaying basic flight information about the flight path and the airport. The general educational pathway that most developmental controllers follow begins with basic information, and then progresses to ground control work. From there the developmental controller moves to local control, departure control, and when ready, arrival controller.
After this time of training, the developmental controller is ready to be assigned to a new assignment duty, which could be anywhere in the United States. From this point the advancement within the organization is directly proportional to availability, opportunity, and personal fortitude. When one considers the great deal of training, and the high expectations for the controllers who are hired, it is easy to see why most controllers consider themselves part of an elite group, serving and protecting the nation.