How Much Do Air Traffic Controllers Make?

Air traffic controllers make an average of $91,552 per year1, helping organize the planes that fill the skies and keeping landings and takeoffs safe. They advise pilots in times of crisis, and without them, the airline industry wouldn’t operate at capacity.

This guide explores the air traffic controller career field, and what potential job seekers can expect from this unique job.

Highest Paying Air Traffic Controller Jobs

About 90% of positions available to students in this field are with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)2. The FAA has strict requirements for those wanting to work in this field:

  • Age 30 or under at the time of application
  • U.S. citizen
  • Pass strict medical and security investigations
  • Pass the FAA pre-employment test
  • Possess three years of progressively responsible work experience or a bachelor’s degree
  • Willing to relocate to satisfy hiring needs

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)2, these comprise the most lucrative positions for air traffic controllers across the country.

Federal Executive Branch Air Traffic Controller Average Annual Salary: $130,400

Air traffic controllers make over $130,0003 working for the Federal Executive Branch. Air traffic control falls under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), making most commercial and civilian flight controllers a federal position. The industry employs about 20,000 people per year3.

Air Traffic Control Support Activities for Air Transportation Average Annual Salary: $97,320

Air traffic controllers working in the support activities sector pull in just over $97,000 per year3, ensuring that air transportation infrastructure remains organized and secure. The field employs around 1,300 people per year3, making it a smaller but well-paying portion of the industry.

Air Traffic Control Tower Option Average Annual Salary: $92,725

Tower option controllers make just under $93,000 per year4 controlling air traffic within the radius of the airport. They also transfer air traffic monitoring to en route centers and receive control when aircraft move into the airport space.

En Route Center Air Traffic Controller Average Annual Salary: $92,000

En route center controllers make $92,000 on average5 working to maintain the safety of flights while away from specific airport air spaces. Although passengers never see these centers, they work in specialized radar rooms to maintain safe distances between aircraft and receive control from tower controllers when the aircraft moves out.

Scheduled Air Transportation Air Traffic Controller Average Annual Salary: $90,970

Scheduled air transportation positions pay about $90,0003 to air traffic controllers who organize and maintain safe transportation routes, takeoffs, and landings. The field employs professionals in around 100 positions3, so it’s a small part of the industry. However, the compensation could make it well worth the effort to secure a position here.

Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services Air Traffic Control Average Annual Salary: $85,360

Air traffic controllers employed in this sector enjoy an annual salary of $85,360 per year3. The sector typically employs less than 100 people3, but this scientific and professional services field still offers one of the highest salaries for an already above-average paying profession.

Local Government Air Traffic Controller Average Annual Salary: $79,640

Local air spaces pay their air traffic controllers just under $80,000 per year3. They handle local air traffic specifically, although they still fall under FAA distinction. They employ around 70 people per year3 but could provide lucrative positions for those working in more remote areas.

Nonscheduled Air Transportation Air Traffic Controller Average Annual Salary: $77,010

Air traffic controllers working for this particular sector make an average salary of just over $77,000 per year3. The sector remains small at fewer than 50 positions per year3, but still provides vital services for charter companies and those with no regular routes.

Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing Air Traffic Controller Average Annual Salary: $76,910

The aerospace product and parts manufacturing sector pays air traffic controllers an average salary of just under $77,000 per year3. The sector employs fewer than 50 people per year3 but would offer excellent career services for those who need an adjacent option to the traditional air traffic control field.

Flight Dispatcher Average Annual Salary: $57,374

Flight dispatchers, also known as air dispatchers, make over $57,000 per year6 coordinating flight paths for aircraft, ensuring aircraft follows safety regulations, and conducting thorough research into the pilot’s flight plan. These positions work in tandem with air traffic control to lay the foundation for a safe, efficient flight.

Popular Career Paths With an Air Traffic Controller Degree

Air traffic controllers work with a few different types of companies to ensure all air traffic moves people and goods safely and effectively.

Federal Aviation Administration

The biggest employer for air traffic controllers remains the FAA. These positions work from local airports to large international airports, handling traffic safety as aircraft leaves or enters the flight space.

The FAA also maintains centers around the country not located near airports. These en route centers monitor all aircraft flying out of the range of local airports and ensure flight paths remain clear.

Other Support Activities for Aviation

Any positions not maintained by the FAA would fall under other support activities. Although these positions are in the minority, they still provide valuable safety services to those with nonscheduled routes or in other capacities.

Department of Defense

The Department of Defense (DoD) also maintains a fleet of air traffic controllers designed to keep military aircraft movements safe. They train in the same disciplines as the civilian position but also learn military-specific skills, such as setting up tactical air spaces.

Average Salary for Air Traffic Controller Graduates

The average salary for air traffic controllers comes in at around $91,000 per year1, with some estimates putting it at well over six figures per year5. Overall salary depends on the type of position as well as the location. According to the BLS, these five states provide the highest salary potential3:

  • New Hampshire average annual salary: $147,710
  • Georgia average annual salary: $144,450
  • Illinois average annual salary: $143,480
  • California average annual salary: $141,530
  • Minnesota average annual salary: $141,410

Students looking to maximize their salary can rely on a combination of geography and experience to help break into some of these highest-paid positions. Working with the FAA and the DoD may offer some choices in a general location.

How to Find a Job After You Graduate

Once students graduate from a program, they must pass strict medical and security investigations to get on the employment list. They must also pass the FAA’s pre-employment test.

Previous air traffic control experience, such as in the military, can provide students an easier pathway to employment with the FAA. Students can also intern at FAA facilities, learning valuable information and skills before official employment.

Jobs with the FAA remain competitive, but students can put in their time and work up. However, if students can gain real, hands-on experience, they put themselves in a much better position.

Discover More About a Career with an Air Traffic Controller Degree

Q. What does an air traffic controller do?

Air traffic controllers use radar, computers, and visual references to monitor and guide the movements of aircraft, whether on the ground at airports or in the sky. Air traffic control includes both tower control (sometimes called ground control) and en-route control, or movements out of range of airport space.

Q. What are the requirements to become an air traffic controller?

Students need a bachelor’s degree and must pass the pre-employment training exam to begin their search for jobs with the FAA. Those entering the military do not need experience; they receive training from the DoD.

Q. Is air traffic control worth it?

Air traffic control remains a lucrative career, but students must be aware of what the position entails. Some drawbacks include high levels of stress and sedentary lifestyles while on the job. Some positions may decline as more towers make use of technology to aid human actions. However, air traffic controllers for the FAA must retire in their 50s, so positions continually open up.

Q. Do air traffic controllers work nights, weekends, and holidays?

In all but the smallest airports, air traffic control remains a 24/7 position. Employees take turns working days, nights, weekends, and holidays. While many schedules revolve around reducing stress, students should expect to work less than ideal hours for a good part of their career.

Q. What is the retirement age for air traffic controllers?

The FAA requires its air traffic controllers to retire by the age of 56 — six years before most people qualify for Social Security benefits. However, the FAA does offer a modified pension plan.

Q. Can you become an air traffic controller after the age of 31?

The FAA requires applicants to begin their training before their 31st birthday, meaning potential job seekers must apply before their 30th birthday based on application period closing dates.

Q. Is the air traffic controller position hard?

The position requires an incredible amount of focus and, in some cases, life or death decisions that happen on the fly. The position requires early retirement and no more than two hours of work at a time before a break. It also includes a long list of disqualifies, including medical conditions like heart disease or ADHD.


[1] Payscale (2021). Air Traffic Controller Salary.

[2] Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020). Occupational Outlook Handbook: Air Traffic Controllers.

[3] Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020). Occupational Employment and Wages Air Traffic Controllers.

[4] Payscale (2021) Average Air Traffic Controller (Tower Option) Salary.

[5] Payscale (2021) Average Air Traffic Controller (En Route Option) Salary.

[6] Payscale (2021) Average Flight Dispatcher Salary.