Career AS Air Traffic Control Specialist at FAA Airport Traffic Control Tower
Nature of the Work: The air traffic control specialists at FAA airport traffic control towers direct air traffic so it flows smoothly and efficiently. The controllers give pilots taxiing and takeoff instructions, air traffic clearances, and advice based on information received from the National Weather Service, air route traffic control centers, aircraft pilots, and other sources. They transfer control of aircraft on instrument flights to the Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) controller when the aircraft leaves their airspace and receives from the ARTCC control of aircraft on instrument flights flying their airspace.
They must be able to recall quickly registration numbers of aircraft under their control, the aircraft types and speeds, positions in the air, and also the location of navigational aids in the area. The controllers normally work a forty-hour week in FAA control towers at airports using radio, radar, electronic computers, telephone, traffic control light, and other devices for communication. Shift work is necessary. Each controller is responsible, at separate times, for: giving taxiing instructions to aircraft on the ground, takeoff instructions and air traffic clearances, and directing landings of incoming planes.
These individual duties are rotated among the staff about every two hours at busy locations. At busy times, controllers must work rapidly, and mental demands increase as traffic mounts, especially when poor flying conditions occur and traffic stacks up. Brief rest periods provide some relief, but are not always possible. Radar controllers usually work in semi-darkness. FAA employs over 20,000 controllers at Air Route Traffic Control Centers and airport control towers and flight service stations located throughout the nation. Some jobs are located outside the contiguous United States in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. Employees are able to relocate to meet staffing requirements.
The starting grade is normally GS-7. Trainees are paid while learning their jobs. The highest grade for a non supervisory professional air traffic control specialist in the tower is GS-14. Promotion from trainee to a higher grade professional controller depends upon the employee's performance and satisfactory progression in his or her training program. Trainees who do not successfully complete their training courses are separated or reassigned from their controller positions. Increases in grade (with accompanying increases in salary) for successful trainees are fairly rapid, but grades above GS-14 are limited to managerial positions of team supervisor, assistant chief, staff officer and chief. During the first year, the trainee is on probation and then she or he may advance from positions backing up professional controllers to primary positions of responsibility. It takes a controller from three to six years of experience to reach the full performance level. Some professional controllers are selected for research activities with FAA's National Aviation Facilities Experimental Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Some are also selected to serve as instructors at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Trainees receive 15 weeks of instruction at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. After completion of the training period, they are assigned to developmental positions for on-the-job training under close supervision until successful completion of training.
However, those who fail to complete training are separated or reassigned from their controller positions. The FAA conducts upgrading training programs for controllers continuously. Training in air traffic control continues long after the controller reaches the full performance level.
Outlook For The Future: Although aviation is growing dramatically the number of new controllers hired each year is approximately 2,000. This is due to the fact that advances in automation have allowed fewer controllers do more work. There is however an increased emphasis on providing the maximum amount of safety which results in continued stringent requirements for controllers.
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