How to Become a Terminal Controller

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Air traffic control is an essential part of the aviation industry that provides direction to aircraft in the air and on the ground to ensure safety and efficiency of all flights. Terminal controllers are a type of air traffic controller that oversees all planes traveling in the airspace of an airport.


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What does a terminal controller do?

Terminal controllers are responsible for the organization of aircraft flow in and out of the airport. They must supervise busy terminal areas to ensure the safe takeoff and landing of all aircraft. They recognize and respond to congestion problems and present solutions. Terminal controllers use visual observation and radar equipment to monitor every plane’s movements to make sure there is always a safe distance between aircraft. They also provide direction to pilots between ramps, hangers, and other obstructions. Some terminal controllers provide advice to pilots about severe weather conditions.

What kind of training does a terminal controller need?

Terminal controllers must complete a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved training program. They must also pass a pre-employment examination that measures their ability to learn air traffic control duties. Most terminal controllers attend the FAA academy located in Oklahoma City, OK for training that typically lasts 12 weeks. They learn airway system fundamentals, controller equipment, FAA regulations, and characteristics of aircraft performance. They also learn specialized terminal control tasks. After graduation, terminal controllers are assigned to a specific air traffic control facility where they complete additional requirements and on the job training. Terminal controllers must also meet the requirements for medical and security clearance and pass a drug screening. They must successfully pass an annual physical examination and semi-annual job performance test.

What are the prospects for a career as a terminal controller?

Employment of all air traffic controllers, including terminal controllers is expected to grow about as fast as average for all professions, increasing 13% from 2008 to 2018 (1).

Job prospects should be good with strong competition. Terminal controllers with extensive experience will have the best job opportunities. Many job openings will stem from the need to replace terminal controllers that retire, transfer, or leave the field for other reasons.

How much do terminal controllers make?

As of January 2010, the average annual salary for terminal controllers is $54,000; average annual terminal controller salaries vary greatly on location, employer, education, experience, and benefits (2).

A career as a terminal controller is an excellent choice for individuals with a strong interest in air traffic control and performing tasks to monitor all aircraft within the airspace of an airport. Terminal controllers must have a solid understanding of air traffic control procedures. Intelligence, detail orientation, good memory, and good concentration are necessary characteristics. Terminal controllers must have excellent communication and the ability to present directions to pilots in a clear and quick manner. They must also be able to make quick decisions and react calmly to stressful situations.

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