Air Traffic Control Specialist at FAA Air Route Traffic Control Center
Nature of the Work: The air traffic control specialists at FAA air route traffic control centers give pilots instructions, air traffic clearances, and advice regarding flight conditions along the flight path, while the pilot is flying the federal airways or operating into airports without towers. The controllers use flight plans and keep track of progress of all instrument flights within the center's airspace. She or he transfers control of aircraft on instrument flights to the controller in the adjacent center when the aircraft enters that center's airspace.
The controllers also receive control of flights entering his or her area of responsibility from adjacent centers. She or he monitors the time of each aircraft's arrival over navigation fixes and maintains records of flights under his or her control. Air route controllers work at FAA air route traffic control centers forty hours a week, using electronic computers, radio, radar, telephones, and other electronic communications devices. Shift work is necessary. They work in semidarkness, and unlike the tower controllers, never see the aircraft they control except as "targets" on the radarscope. In most areas, work is demanding. Registration numbers on all aircraft under control as well as types, speeds, and altitudes are automatically displayed on the radarscope, but each aircraft must be closely controlled to avoid other aircraft.
FAA employs about 6,800 controllers at 22 air route traffic control centers located throughout the USA plus one each in Guam, and Puerto Rico. The starting grade is normally GS-7. Trainees are paid while learning their jobs. The highest grade for an operating professional air traffic control specialist at a center is GS-14. Promotion to higher grades and to professional controller depends upon the employee's performance and satisfactory achievement in his or her training program. Increases in grade (with accompanying increases in salary) for successful trainees are fairly rapid, but grades above GS-14 are for positions of team supervisor, assistant chief, staff officer and chief. During the first year, the trainee is on probation and then he or she may advance from positions backing up professional controllers to primary positions of responsibility. It takes a controller from three to about six years of experience to reach the professional level. Appointment or movement to a position as air traffic control data systems computer specialist is possible. Professional Controllers are also selected for research activities with FAA's National Aviation Facilities Experimental Center at Atlantic City, New Jersey. Some are also selected to serve as instructors at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Trainees receive 12 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.
In line with predictions for continued growth of all sections of aviation, the need for air traffic controllers will remain constant. As airports generate greater volumes of air traffic and as emphasis on providing the maximum amount of safety grows, there will be a continuing requirement for controllers at air route traffic control centers however, automation has offset the increase in workload, and thus eliminating the need for increases in the number of controllers.
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