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Air Traffic Control

The National Airspace System (NAS) is a vast network of people and equipment that ensures the safe operation of commercial and private aircraft. Air traffic controllers work within the NAS to coordinate the movement of air traffic to make certain that planes stay a safe distance apart. Their immediate concern is safety, but controllers also must direct planes efficiently to minimize delays. Some regulate airport traffic through designated airspaces; others regulate airport arrivals and departures.

Airport tower or terminal controllers are primarily responsible for organizing the flow of the airport’s arrivals and departures, although they also monitor all aircraft that enters the airport’s airspace. With the assistance of radar and visual observation, these controllers observe and supervise the movements of each plane in order to maintain a safe distance between aircraft, as well as to direct pilots between hangers, ramps and the limits of the airport’s airspace. Controllers also advise pilots of potentially dangerous weather changes, such as sudden, aircraft-affecting shifts of wind velocity or direction known as “wind shear.”

Departures involve the same procedures, but in reverse. First, the ground controller guides the plane to the appropriate runway. The pilot is then informed about the airport’s weather and visibility conditions by the local controller, who also delivers runway clearance prior to takeoff. As the plane leaves ground, the departure controller guides the plane out of the airport’s airspace.

When the plane leave the airport’s airspace, enroute controllers are notified by the tower controllers, and subsequently take charge of the plane’s flight. Between 300 and 700 air traffic controllers are employed at each of 21 national air route traffic centers.

Air traffic controllers are not limited to positions in airport towers or enroute centers—they also work in more than 100 flight service stations across the nation. As flight service specialists, these controllers supply pilots with information unique to specific areas, thus helping ensure a flight’s safety. This information may include suggested route as well as weather and terrain information. Flight service specialists also assist pilots in an emergency and coordinate efforts to locate lost or late aircraft. These specialists do not, however, play an active role in air traffic management.

There are many different career jobs functioning that make up the air traffic control system. Below is a short listing of other job titles that help manage the sky we travel in.

Air Traffic Management & Control Jobs/Skills:

  • Software Engineer
  • Ada Developer
  • Air Traffic Control (ATC)
  • Air Traffic Management (ATM)
  • Project Program Manager
  • Systems Engineer
  • Integration / Test
  • Systems Integration / Test ILS / RAMS / Reliability 
  • Engineer
  • Quality Assurance
  • Consultant
  • Technical Author
  • Documentation
  • Safety Engineer /Assurance
  • Analyst
  • Programmer  

Links to Specific Air Traffic Control Jobs:

Job Air Traffic Management

Job Air Traffic Controller

Job Air Traffic Control Systems Engineer

Job Description Army Air Traffic Controller 15Q

Air Traffic Control Operations Specialist


Courtesy: FAA, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 


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