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Air Traffic Controller  What They Do

Just the Facts


Air Traffic Controllers Career Video



Controls air traffic on and within vicinity of airport and movement of air traffic between altitude sectors and control centers according to established procedures and policies. Authorizes, regulates, and controls commercial airline flights according to government or company regulations to expedite and ensure flight safety.

This career is part of the Transportation, Distribution and Logistics cluster Transportation/Systems Infrastructure pathway.


A person in this career:

  • Informs pilots about nearby planes or potentially hazardous conditions, such as weather, speed and direction of wind, or visibility problems.
  • Issues landing and take-off authorizations or instructions.
  • Provides flight path changes or directions to emergency landing fields for pilots traveling in bad weather or in emergency situations.
  • Transfers control of departing flights to traffic control centers and accepts control of arriving flights.
  • Alerts airport emergency services in cases of emergency or when aircraft are experiencing difficulties.
  • Monitors or directs the movement of aircraft within an assigned air space or on the ground at airports to minimize delays and maximize safety.
  • Directs pilots to runways when space is available or directs them to maintain a traffic pattern until there is space for them to land.
  • Monitors aircraft within a specific airspace, using radar, computer equipment, or visual references.
  • Directs ground traffic, including taxiing aircraft, maintenance or baggage vehicles, or airport workers.
  • Contacts pilots by radio to provide meteorological, navigational, or other information.

Insider Info

Dig into the details and check out what people in this job have to say about their work.



Working Conditions and Physical Demands

People who do this job report that:

  • You would often handle loads up to 10 lbs., sometimes up to 20 lbs. You might do a lot of walking or standing, or you might sit but use your arms and legs to control machines, equipment or tools.
  • Work in this occupation involves using your hands to hold, control, and feel objects more than one-third of the time
  • Work in this occupation requires being inside most of the time
  • Sound and noise levels are loud and distracting
  • Work in this occupation involves making repetitive motions more than one-third of the time
  • Work in this occupation involves sitting more than one-third of the time

Working in this career involves (physical activities):

  • Picking out a particular sound in the presence of other sounds
  • Identifying color and seeing differences in color, including shades and brightness
  • Seeing clearly at a distance
  • Seeing clearly up close
  • Speaking clearly enough to be able to be understood by others
  • Identifying and understanding the speech of another person

Work Hours and Travel

  • Rotating shift work
  • Weekend work

Specialty and Similar Careers

Careers that are more detailed or close to this career:

  • Air Traffic Control Specialist (ATCS) --
  • Air Traffic Control Specialist, Terminal --
  • Air Traffic Control Specialist/Certified Professional Controller (ATC Specialist/CPC) --
  • Air Traffic Controller, Center --
  • Certified Professional Controller (CPC) --
  • Control Tower Operator --
  • Radar Air Traffic Controller --