Become an Air Traffic Controller in 2021?

Become an air traffic controller in 2021? Air traffic controllers have a role in making everyone in the aircraft safe. Just like the traffic officers you see on many roads, air traffic controllers ensure that the flow of traffic from the moment the plane takes off is good to avoid plane crashes and other accidents.

Let's see if being an air traffic controller is right for you:

  1. What is the average salary of an air traffic controller?
  2. What is the job market like for air traffic controllers? Would it be hard for you to get a job?
  3. Would this occupation be compatible with your personality and interests?
  4. What kind of education do you need to become an air traffic controller?
  5. What will happen to air traffic controllers ten years from now?

Let's get started.

Become an Air Traffic Controller in 2021?

The aviation industry has a lot of risks and dangers, and air traffic controllers help minimize those. Air traffic controllers may not be among the people who are exposed to the passengers, but what they are doing benefits everyone.

Without air traffic controllers, there would be lots of delays, accidents, and problems. Just imagine what would happen if there were no traffic officers and traffic lights—drivers wouldn't know whether to stop, wait, or go!

1. What is the average salary of an air traffic controller?

Air traffic controllers in the United States earn over $100,000 every year.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, air traffic controllers in the United States had a base salary of $127,440 in 2020. They outearned these occupations:

  • Commercial Pilots: $110,830
  • Locomotive Engineers: $70,660
  • Flight Attendants: $59,150
  • Heavy Truck Drivers: $48,710
  • Bus Drivers: $48,110
  • Emergency Dispatchers: $45,170
  • Light Truck Drivers: $41,050
  • Ambulance Drivers: $30,700

Air traffic controllers earned $59,430 less than airline pilots in the same year.

There has been an upward trend since 2000 even though there were years when their base salaries declined. Air traffic controllers were paid $79,460 in 2000. That was $47,980 less than in 2020.

Their wage growth was $2,284 per year from 2000 through 2020 and $1,450 per year from 2015 through 2020.

And if the trend were to continue, the Bureau of Labor Statistics sees that air traffic controllers could earn up to $150,288 in 2030.

Here is how the 2020 base salaries break down by percentile.

  • 10th Percentile: $72,760 (starting salary estimate)
  • 25th Percentile: $90,950
  • 50th Percentile: $130,420 (median salary)
  • 75th Percentile: $161,820
  • 90th Percentile: $184,780

There is a $112,020 difference between the 10th Percentile and the 90th Percentile.

The highest-paid air traffic controllers were in Massachusetts in 2020. Here's how much air traffic controllers in these states earned:

  • New Hampshire: $147,710
  • Georgia: $144,450
  • Illinois: $143,480
  • California: $141,530
  • Minnesota: $141,410
  • Texas: $139,530
  • Kansas: $132,190
  • Hawaii: $125,660
  • Florida: $122,650
  • Alaska: $115,300
  • District of Columbia: $83,810

The lowest-paid air traffic controllers in the United States had a base salary of $81,410 in the same year.

2. What is the job market like for air traffic controllers? Would it be hard for you to get a job?

There are a little over 20,000 air traffic controllers in the United States.

Based on the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 22,190 air traffic controllers in the United States in 2020. They were outnumbered by these occupations:

  • Heavy Truck Drivers: 1,797,710
  • Light Truck Drivers: 929,470
  • Emergency Dispatchers: 281,740
  • Bus Drivers: 162,850
  • Flight Attendants: 116,260
  • Airline Pilots: 83,550
  • Commercial Pilots: 37,120
  • Locomotive Engineers: 37,110

Air traffic controllers outnumbered ambulance drivers by 8,070 in 2020.

None of the 22,190 air traffic controllers are self-employed. None of these occupations are self-employed either:

  • Airline Pilots
  • Ambulance Drivers
  • Bus Drivers
  • Emergency Dispatchers
  • Flight Attendants
  • Locomotive Engineers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 8% of light truck drivers, 7% of heavy truck drivers, and 5% of commercial pilots are self-employed in 2020.

There hasn't been a consistent direction in terms of their job growth. And unfortunately, the number of air traffic controllers in 2020 was 1,160 less than in 2000.

Nonetheless, the Bureau of Labor Statistics sees that the number of air traffic controllers could increase in the coming years if the trend were to continue. They see that the number could increase by 888 by 2030.

Here's how many air traffic controllers were found in these states in 2020:

  • California: 2,210
  • Florida: 2,110
  • Texas: 1,920
  • Virginia: 1,060
  • Georgia: 1,020
  • Illinois: 910
  • Minnesota: 580
  • District of Columbia: 500
  • New Hampshire: 460
  • Alaska: 450
  • Kansas: 410
  • Hawaii: 230

Now, would it be hard for you to get a job?

I used Glassdoor, Indeed, and LinkedIn to find the number of job postings for this occupation. Job postings give us a real-time estimate of the demand for a particular occupation.

On Glassdoor, there are 123 job opportunities for air traffic controllers.

On Indeed, there are 247.

On LinkedIn, there are 528.

The total number of job postings for air traffic controllers in the United States is 528. Considering that there are 22,190 employed air traffic controllers, there is 1 job opportunity for every 42.03 individuals. The competition is strong!

3. Would this occupation be compatible with your personality and interests?

The Holland Codes or the Holland Occupational Themes (RIASEC) refers to a career and vocational choice theory. After taking a RIASEC assessment, your results show your scores across six different occupational themes: Realistic (R), Investigative (I), Artistic (A), Social (S), Enterprising (E), and Conventional (C).

The Strong Interest Inventory is the gold standard for figuring out your interests, but it is a controlled assessment. It isn't free. You need a certified professional to administer it to you. A free alternative evaluation is available here.

Air traffic controllers scored high in the Enterprising (89) and Conventional (83) themes.

People that score high in the enterprising theme describe themselves as ambitious, competitive, persuasive, assertive, and energetic. Often, they are motivated by persuading, selling, and leading.

Moreover, people that score high in the conventional theme describe themselves as practical, organized, conscientious, orderly, and careful. They are often motivated by organizing and managing information.

This means that air traffic controllers have a desire to win and achieve their goals. They know how to deal with people and have the skills to get what they want from them. They also have leadership skills, and they like putting things in order.

In addition, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a self-report questionnaire indicating differing psychological preferences in perceiving the world and making decisions. Many people discover their Myers-Briggs type to help determine which career to go into.

There isn't an even distribution of type among the United States population. According to the MBTI Manual Third Edition, 13.8% of the US population is an ISFJ (The Defender), the most common type. The second most common type is ESFJ (The Caregiver), 12.3% of the American population.

Meanwhile, only 1.5% of the US population is INFJ (The Advocate).

21.0% of air traffic controllers are ISTJs. ISTJs (The Inspector) are the best people to get advice from if you want to hear arguments that are factual. It is because they are logical and objective people who don't let their emotions get to them when making decisions and doing things.

Here are the other personality types found among air traffic controllers:

  • ESTJ (The Director): 18.9%
  • ISTP (The Crafter): 10.5%
  • ESTP (The Persuader): 7.7%

All of them are objective and like processes.

On the other hand, those who are most likely to become air traffic controllers are ENTJs. ENTJs (The Commander) are charismatic people who have strong leadership skills. They are driven and will do anything to reach their goals. They also love being challenged.

Those who tend to become air traffic controllers also have these personality types:

  • ESTJ (The Director): 2.2 SSR
  • ISTP (The Crafter): 1.9 SSR
  • ISTJ (The Inspector): 1.8 SSR

They are all logical.

4. What kind of education do you need to become an air traffic controller?

A college degree isn't required to be an air traffic controller.

According to the Occupational Information Network, among the air traffic controllers:

  • 36% has a high school diploma
  • 21% has a high school diploma and certificate
  • 20% has a bachelor's degree

20% of 22,190 is 4,438. Only 4,438 air traffic controllers finished college.

5. What will happen to air traffic controllers ten years from now?

Let's compare the 10-year job outlook of air traffic controllers to that of other occupations.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, air traffic controllers are expected to grow by 4% in the next ten years. That's slower than these occupations:

  • Flight Attendants: 30%
  • Bus Drivers: 25%
  • Airline Pilots: 14%
  • Commercial Pilots: 13%
  • Light Truck Drivers: 12%
  • Ambulance Drivers: 11%
  • Emergency Dispatchers: 8%
  • Locomotive Engineers: 6%
  • Heavy Truck Drivers: 6%

Airline pilots are projected to grow 10% faster than air traffic controllers.

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