Pros and Cons of Working in Air Traffic Control

advantages and disadvantages of being an air traffic controller

You think about becoming an air traffic controller but are not entirely sure whether this is the right way to go for you or not? Great!

I show you all the pros and cons of being an air traffic controller in the following chapters so that you can better decide if you still want to work in this field or if you rather want to go for a different career path instead.

Table of Contents

Air Traffic Controller Job Profile

Job DescriptionAir traffic controllers are responsible for coordinating air traffic from the ground. They communicate with pilots and make sure that planes can get from A to B in a safe manner.
Salary$95,000 per year on average, most painters make between $78,000 and $120,000 per year.
Job SecurityRather low since mistakes can get you fired pretty soon.
Job SatisfactionLow since you will have to face enormous levels of stress and pressure.
Work-Life BalanceDecent. While you have to work on weekends sometimes, you will still not work that many hours.
Physically / Mentally Demanding?Mentally and emotionally demanding career.
Future OutlookRather questionable since many air traffic controllers will be replaced by machines in the future.
RequirementsDepending on the state, you often need a college degree and also have to pass several psychological tests for becoming an air traffic controller.

Advantages of Being an Air Traffic Controller

  1. You can make good money as an air traffic controller
  2. Air traffic controllers are crucial to minimize the risk in air travel
  3. You are crucial to keep our system running
  4. Air traffic controllers have lots of leisure
  5. You can work indoors
  6. You don’t have to work in a physical manner
  7. High social status of air traffic controllers
  8. Working as an air traffic controller can be exciting
  9. You may get discounts on flights
  10. Many air traffic controllers can retire early
  11. Good job if you love planes and air travel in general

You can make good money as an air traffic controller

One advantage of being an air traffic controller is that you can make really good money from what you are doing.

In fact, many air traffic controllers make a six-figure income and some of them don’t even have a college degree.

Hence, working as an air traffic controller can be great for you if money is important to you and you want to be able to afford some luxury later on in your life.

Of course, you should not be in the game just for the money since you will just not be happy with your job in the long run.

Yet, you will still have the opportunity to make good money and to provide for your family as an air traffic controller while you may struggle to do so in many other jobs, especially if you live in rather expensive regions where living costs are quite high.

Air traffic controllers are crucial to minimize the risk in air travel

You will also do a pretty important job as an air traffic controller.

You will be the one who will guide planes so that pilots can bring their passengers from A to B in a safe manner.

Sure, there are also many technical devices that will help pilots and you as an air traffic controller so that you can do your job as best as possible.

Yet, you will also have to use your own judgement since machines are not perfect as well and will not make perfect decisions under certain circumstances.

Hence, while this implies lots of pressure on you since mistakes on your side can lead to horrible outcomes, it still gives you a feeling of importance if you work in air traffic control.

You are crucial to keep our system running

In general, you will also be pretty important for society as an air traffic controller.

Imagine a world without people who work in this field.

We would just not be able to fly from A to B in a safe and efficient manner.

Instead, the risk related to air travel would greatly increase and we would also have a pretty bad feeling inside planes.

In turn, far fewer people would be willing to fly and this would prevent us to make many nice experiences during our vacations.

Consequently, as an air traffic controller, you will also enable people to make experiences they wouldn’t have been able to make without traveling by plane.

Air traffic controllers have lots of leisure

Another upside to working as an air traffic controller is that you will also have plenty of leisure.

While you will have to focus really hard on your job during your shift, you will not work that many hours as an air traffic controller and will also take breaks on a regular basis.

In fact, most air traffic controllers work less than 40 hours but still make a full-time income from what they are doing.

Thus, a career in air traffic control can also make sense for you if you want to have plenty of time to spend on other things apart from work.

You can work indoors

Air traffic controllers can also enjoy the privilege to work indoors.

Quite often, you will just sit in a tower and will be protected against extreme conditions outdoors.

While other people who work in different fields will have to work outdoors in the cold or during periods of extreme heat, you will enjoy a rather cozy and comfortable work environment as an air traffic controller.

While you might take this for granted, many other people still don’t have the opportunity to work indoors and you should really appreciate this benefit that comes along with working in air travel.

You don’t have to work in a physical manner

As an air traffic controller, you also don’t have to work in a physical manner.

While working in this field can be mentally and emotionally demanding, you will not have to lift heavy stuff and carry it from A to B.

In turn, chances are that your body will still be healthy once you get older while the bodies of people who work in different fields may become vulnerable to physical health issues pretty soon.

High social status of air traffic controllers

Another benefit of becoming an air traffic controller is that you will also have a pretty high social status.

In fact, people know that your job in air traffic control will be quite demanding and that you do an important job for society.

Some people will also envy you since they secretly also wanted to work in this field but didn’t make it in the end.

In turn, many people will also secretly admire you and this can give you a good feeling and can also greatly boost your confidence.

Working as an air traffic controller can be exciting

A career in air traffic control can also be really exciting.

Every time you go to work, you will know that you have plenty of responsibility and that thousands of people rely on your judgement to get from one place to the other in a safe and fast manner.

Especially in the beginning, this can be really exciting since you will have to focus quite a lot and will always learn new things from other experienced air traffic controllers along the way.

Consequently, chances are that you will never get bored with your job since you will be challenged every day of your career.

You may get discounts on flights

If you develop good connections with important people in your organization, chances are that you will also be able to get discounts on flights for your private purposes.

In turn, your own vacations will become much cheaper and you may also be able to travel to fancy places you wouldn’t be able to visit without those perks.

Many air traffic controllers can retire early

Another advantage of becoming an air traffic controller is that you can retire rather early.

In many states, you will often only have to work 20 to 30 years before you are able to get retirement benefits.

In fact, many airports don’t want their air traffic controllers to work in their older years since people’s mental abilities will decrease and the chances for accidents increase.

Hence, a career in air traffic control can also make sense for you if you want to retire at a pretty young age while most of your friends will still have to work in their jobs for many additional years.

Good job if you love planes and air travel in general

You should also have a certain passion for air travel before you decide for becoming an air traffic controller.

If you are just in for the money and for the additional perks that come along with it, chances are that you will not become happy in the long run.

However, if you are really interested in air traffic, working in this field can be a great job option for you since you will be able to combine your work with your passion and this is usually one of the best combinations to stay happy in the long run.

Now that you know all the advantages that come along with a career in air traffic control, let’s have a look at the other side of the medal to also understand the problems that come along with working as an air traffic controller.

Disadvantages of Working as an Air Traffic Controller

  1. Working as an air traffic controller can be stressful
  2. Air traffic controllers have high levels of responsibility
  3. Your mistakes can take away many lives
  4. You may go to work with a bad feeling
  5. Air traffic controllers also have to work on weekends and holidays
  6. You may have to work at nighttime
  7. You can’t start your own business
  8. Process for becoming an air traffic controller can be demanding
  9. You will have to successfully complete tests on a regular basis
  10. Teleworking will not be possible most of the time
  11. You may lose your job if you make mistakes
  12. Rather questionable future job prospects for air traffic controllers
  13. Many air traffic controllers burn out in the long run
  14. You will not get the same recognition as pilots
  15. You will work in a rather narrow field
  16. You may get stuck in air traffic control

Working as an air traffic controller can be stressful

One disadvantage of being an air traffic controller is that you will work in a rather stressful environment.

You will never be able to relax during your shift since you will always have to monitor the flight patterns of planes.

You will also know that you cannot afford to make any mistakes and this further increases the pressure that comes along with working in this industry.

Hence, before becoming an air traffic controller, make sure that you have the stomach to deal with constantly high stress levels and that you are able to stay calm even in difficult situations where you might feel overwhelmed.

Air traffic controllers have high levels of responsibility

You should also never forget the high level of responsibility that comes along with this job.

People will rely on your judgement to get from one place to the other in a safe manner and you should always remember that with great power comes great responsibility.

Thus, while some people are borne for taking on responsibility, others don’t like to have those high levels of responsibility at all and you should ask yourself what type of person you really are before deciding for a career in air traffic control.

Your mistakes can take away many lives

In the worst case, your mistakes can take away the lives of many people.

Only one big mistake will be enough and airplanes may crash.

Hence, it is extremely important that you stay focused 100% on your work and that you are able to mentally exclude everything else during your shift.

While this may sound logical, it is much harder than you might think since you will also have private problems to care about and those problems may take away mental capacities from your job.

Therefore, it is crucial to make sure that you are the type of person who can really focus on one thing at a time, even though you may also have many other things going on in your life.

You may go to work with a bad feeling

Many air traffic controllers also admit that they go to work with a rather bad feeling.

They know that mistakes on their side can lead to catastrophic outcomes and this implies enormous levels of pressure that you have to deal with as an air traffic controller.

Hence, if you don’t have the mental strengths to deal with these issues, chances are that you will not become happy with your job as an air traffic controller in the long run.

Air traffic controllers also have to work on weekends and holidays

Another downside to being an air traffic controller is that you may also have to work on weekends or holidays.

Sure, you will not have to work every weekend.

Yet, you will have to work some of them and this means that you will have to focus on your work while most of your friends will enjoy their leisure.

You may have to work at nighttime

You should also be willing to work in the evening or even at nighttime as an air traffic controller.

While some of your shifts will be during the day, you will also sometimes have work while most other people sleep and if you are not willing to make this commitment, chances are that you will be far better off with a 9 to 5 job.

You can’t start your own business

Another problem with becoming an air traffic controller is that you will not be able to start your own business in this field.

Air traffic control is a field that is in the hands of airports and airlines and it will be almost impossible for individuals to break into this field.

Consequently, working in air traffic control will also not be helpful in case you want to have your own business in the future.

Thus, if you are an entrepreneurial type of person, you should strive for a career in a different field where it is easier to work self-employed.

Process for becoming an air traffic controller can be demanding

You should also not underestimate how hard the selection process for air traffic controllers really is.

Since the lives of many people will lie in the hands of air traffic controllers, you will have to meet pretty high standards, both from an educational as well as from a mental and emotional standpoint.

Most people who apply as an air traffic controller fail since they don’t have the mental strengths to work in this field and you should therefore have a backup plan in case you will not make it as an air traffic controller.

You will have to successfully complete tests on a regular basis

You should also be aware of the fact that you will have to complete psychological tests on a regular basis. Failing just one of those tests may get you fired.

In turn, you can never be sure about your situation as an air traffic controller since you may become unemployed from one day to the other and this makes planning for the future really difficult.

Teleworking will not be possible most of the time

Another disadvantage of working as an air traffic controller is that you will not be able to enjoy the benefits that come along with teleworking.

While many other people who work in conventional office jobs can work from home and combine personal and private life, you will not have this level of flexibility since you will always have to commute to work and will also not be able to do the laundry or other things related to your household during your shift.

You may lose your job if you make mistakes

You can also lose your job as an air traffic controller pretty easily in case you make mistakes.

In fact, only few mistakes can get you fired and since you will know that, the pressure at work can be enormous and all the fun can be taken out of it.

Rather questionable future job prospects for air traffic controllers

You should also not underestimate the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

In fact, many air traffic controllers will become obsolete in the near future and will be replaced by machines that will carry out the work for them.

Consequently, you will also not have that good future job prospects as an air traffic controller and there may just be safer jobs out there.

Many air traffic controllers burn out in the long run

Since stress levels and the pressure can be enormous for air traffic controllers, many of them also develop mental problems sooner or later.

In fact, you need a pretty stable mindset to stay unaffected by those things in the long run and most people just don’t have this emotional stability.

Hence, make sure to take an honest look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are the type of person who can really handle those issues in a proper manner before you decide to become an air traffic controller.

You will not get the same recognition as pilots

While people will appreciate your work, you will just not get the same level of recognition and admiration as an air traffic controller compared to pilots who will often have a much higher social standing and will also earn more money than you.

You will work in a rather narrow field

Another downside of a career in air traffic control is that you will work in a rather narrow field.

Sure, you will be an expert for how to bring planes from one place to the other in a safer and fast manner.

Yet, you will not have that many other skills and this can lead to real problems, especially in case you want to switch fields sooner or later.

You may get stuck in air traffic control

In fact, many air traffic controllers are stuck in this field since they simply haven’t developed any other skills that are valuable to potential employers in the corporate world.

Thus, make sure that you have a real passion for air traffic control before applying for a job in this field since you may have to work as an air traffic controller for the rest of your professional life.

Being an Air Traffic Controller Pros & Cons – Summary List

Being an Air Traffic Controller ProsBeing an Air Traffic Controller Cons
Air traffic controllers can make good moneyAir traffic controllers have lots of stress
You will not work that many hoursCan be emotionally demanding
High social status of air traffic controllersMental problems are rather common
You may get discounts on flightsYou may be afraid to go to work
You will keep our system runningHigh levels of responsibility
Many people will appreciate your workMistakes can cost lives
You may be able to retire earlyYou may get fired pretty soon
Air traffic controllers can work indoorsYou have to pass psychological tests
You can avoid physical workHigh barriers to entry
Good job if you love air travelHard to switch fields

Should You Become An Air Traffic Controller?

As you can see, there are indeed many advantages and disadvantages to being an air traffic controller.

You should definitely take your time and evaluate all the pros and cons so that you are able to make a profound decision regarding this important topic.

If you are still interested in a career as an air traffic controller, you should also get detailed information about the salary, career prospects, working hours and educational requirements of an air traffic controller.

Also make sure to check out the following articles:

Advantages and disadvantages of working as a train engineer

Advantages and disadvantages of working as a truck driver

Advantages and disadvantages of working as a painter

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_traffic_control

https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewdepietro/2019/11/21/air-traffic-controller-salary-state/?sh=7e99bd2e59ff

About the author

My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people about the different career paths that are possible in our current state of the world. In my opinion, people often make the mistake to choose their profession solely based on how much money they can earn from it instead of doing what makes them really happy.

This is quite sad and I just want to give people a more objective picture of how a fulfilling career could look like. I did the same when I started working in consulting after finishing my Master’s degree in Economics. However, I’ve quit pretty soon after that since I haven’t found true meaning in my job.

Now I can do what I really love to do and I want to enable as many other people as well to go this exciting path towards happiness instead of money.

I conducted various interviews with employees to give you a good impression of what working in different fields will look like and that you can make the best possible decision regarding your future career choice.

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