How to Become an Army Air Traffic Controller

By: Chris Opfer

Civilian and Military Air Traffic Controllers

Every day, FAA air traffic controllers direct the flow of the more than 50,000 aircraft that enter the United States' National Airspace System. These air traffic controllers work at airports and control centers around the country and are employed by the federal government. The job requires strong computational skills, poise under pressure and quick decision-making ability. And the good news is that the FAA is hiring: Between 2007 and 2017, the government plans to hire and train nearly 17,000 new air traffic controllers [source: FAA].

In addition to hiring professionally experienced ATCs such as military veterans, the FAA also recruits people with no prior air traffic control experience, as well as graduates of the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative Program, through which the FAA partners with colleges and universities teaching basic courses in air traffic control. Generally, a person without professional air traffic control experience must be younger than age 31 and pass a basic medical examination, background check and pre-employment test called Air Traffic Selection and Training (AT-SAT). The AT-SAT is an eight-hour, computer-based exam that tests skills such as reasoning, numeric ability and movement detection [source: FAA].


Army air traffic controllers, on the other hand, direct air traffic at military facilities around the world. ATC opportunities are available to both active duty and Army reserve soldiers. While Army ATCs undergo training necessary for civilian air traffic control, they're also trained in military-specific skills such as setting up and operating tactical air traffic control facilities.

To become an Army ATC, a person must first enlist in the Army or Army Reserve; to enlist, a person must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien between the ages of 17 and 41 and usually (but not always) must have a high school diploma. The person must also be generally healthy, in good physical condition and in "good moral standing." After enlisting, a soldier who wants to become an ATC must meet the Army's Class 4 medical fitness standards, have normal color vision, be able to frequently lift more than 50 pounds (23 kilograms), occasionally lift more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms) and pass a technical aptitude test [sources: U.S. Army, U.S. Army Info].

On the next page, learn about the training to become an Army air traffic controller.