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How Much Does an Air Traffic Controller Earn?

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The median annual wage for air traffic controllers was $124,540 in May 2018. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $68,090, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $178,650.

In May 2018, the median annual wages for air traffic controllers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government$129,180
Professional, scientific, and technical services97,690
Support activities for air transportation80,750

The salaries for development controllers increase as they complete successive levels of training. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the salaries for more advanced controllers who have completed on-the-job training varies with the location of the facility, the complexity of the flight paths, and other factors. A full explanation of the pay ranges for air traffic controllers can be found on the FAA Aviation Careers Page.

Most air traffic controllers work full time, and some work additional hours. The FAA regulates the hours that an air traffic controller may work. Controllers may not work more than 10 straight hours during a shift and must have 9 hours’ rest before their next shift.

Controllers may rotate shifts among day, evening, and night, because major control facilities operate continuously. Controllers also work weekend and holiday shifts. Less busy airports may have towers that do not operate on a 24-hour basis. Controllers at these airports may have more normal work schedules.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, air traffic controllers have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union. 

Career Outlook

Employment of air traffic controllers is projected to show little or no change from 2018 to 2028.

Although air traffic is projected to increase in the next decade, the satellite-based Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is expected to allow individual controllers to handle more air traffic. As a result, the demand for additional air traffic controllers should be limited over the next 10 years.

Job Prospects

Competition for air traffic controller jobs is expected to be very strong, with many people applying for a relatively small number of jobs. Those with military experience as an air traffic controller may have an advantage.

Most employment opportunities will result from the need to replace workers who are expected to retire or leave the occupation.