How To Become an Air Traffic Controller (ATC)? Hiring Process Explained

Air Traffic Controller (ATC) Hiring Process

Embark on a rewarding career as an Air Traffic Controller. Air Traffic Controllers earn an average salary of $127,805 and are usually unionized workers. They receive enticing benefits and retirement is around the age of 56. Air Traffic Controllers have an important role to play, and thus the path to this career is not easy. Let's learn some more about what it takes to become an Air Traffic Controller.

Take a Practice ATSA Test.

What Is an Air Traffic Controller?

Air traffic controllers use technology to guide planes and coordinate the traffic of the planes both in sky and on the ground. They are responsible for communicating with the pilots and informing them when to take off and land. They must monitor the weather and any other emergencies that might affect flight arrival and departures. ATC's often work with other air traffic controllers to manage the flow of departing and arriving flights, ensuring there is enough space on the runway. They may also be responsible for determining any flight path changes.

What Is the Hiring Process like to Become an Air Traffic Controller?

  1. Search for an open position
  2. Submit an Application
  3. Biographical Assessment (BA)
  4. ATSA
  5. Temporary Offer Letter (TOL)
  6. Clearance Information Letter (CIL)
  7. Medical Clearance
  8. Security Clearance
  9. Firm Offer Letter (FOL)

Search for an Open Position

The FAA periodically puts out hiring announcements on There is a window of time when the application is open, all submissions must be done then. There is no set schedule for when positions will be opened, so make sure you monitor social media. To find an open position, search USAJobs for series "2152", and make sure you mark yourself as a U.S. Citizens. You want to make sure you are searching for the job title Air Traffic Control Specialist - Trainee. The job opening will look something like "FAA-ATO-17-ALLSRCE-49075" where the "ALLSRCE" represents that the position requires no experience. The USAJobs site allows you to save searches and receive notifications.

Submit an Application

As positions are not always open, it is important that you make sure you are application ready. We recommend that you use the USAJobs resume builder. The resume builder ensures that you have all the required fields for the application. You would not want to be disqualified off the bat because you are missing information. You will need a list of all your addresses and jobs from the last 10 years. Have at least one reference's address and phone number handy.

In order to submit an application you are required to be U.S citizens and must begin the training course before the age of 31. All applicants can be broken down into two pools of people.

Pool 1 consists of those meeting at least one of the following requirements:

  1. Complete an aviation degree from an institution participating in the FAA's Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative program.
  2. Work experience from military service or related fields. These candidates may be eligible for a Veterans Recruitment Appointment (VRA). This requires you to have a certificate of release from the last 120 days from the announcement closing.
  3. Have a combination of postsecondary education and progressively responsible work experience totalling three years.

Pool 2 consists of:

All other U.S citizens that don't meet the requirements of pool one.

Biographical Assessment (BA)

If you are part of pool 2 and you successfully complete the application you will be directed to take a Biographical Assessment (BA). Those eligible for pool 1 are exempt from taking the Biographical Assessment. The BA is an online personality test used to screen applicants and make sure they have the traits needed to be an Air Traffic Controller. The BA is pass/fail, if you fail you will be eliminated from the hiring process.

Air Traffic Control Specialist Skills Assessment Battery (ATSA)

If you pass the BA or if your application meets the requirements you will need to schedule the Air Traffic Control Specialist Skills Assessment Battery (ATSA) test. The ATSA is pass/fail. Even though the test is pass/fail, you will be placed in a band based on whether you received a higher or lower score.

Learn more about the AT-SA test and get study guides, practice tests and answers.

Temporary Offer Letter (TOL)

Not everyone who passes the ATSA will get a Temporary Offer Letter (TOL) therefore it is important to score well on the exam. The TOL is an acceptance letter you will receive by email, which will allow you to accept or decline the offer. Those selected will receive a TOL via email. This is an acceptance letter which must be returned to HR saying you wish to continue or you decline the offer. If you choose to accept the offer there will be additional forms for you to fill out and return including: applicant contact information, drug test notification, and a Declaration for Federal Employment OF-306 form. The TOL will also request specific information, depending on the applicant's background.

  • Applicants who are previous Federal Civilian Employees must include appointment and separation information (SF50).
  • Applicants who are Federal Civilian Employees will need to provide information of your current agency HR point of contact, and official transcripts.
  • Applicants who are Veterans will need your DD Form 214 Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, SF-15 Application for 10-Point Veteran Preference, and a Disabled Veteran Civil Service Preference Letter if applicable.
  • Applicants with other prior experience will be sent a link to provide information about the previous facility.

Clearance Information Letter (CIL)

Once you accept the TOL, HR will send a Clearance Information Letter (CIL). This email will contains contact information to begin medical and security clearances. There is no time frame in which these need to be completed. Although the sooner you complete them the faster you can move forward in the process. There is known the be bottlenecks in the wait time for these clearances.

Medical Clearance

The medical clearance is used to ensure that air traffic control specialist applicants and employees have the capacity to perform functions of the position without risk to themselves or others.The medical clearance includes:

Security Clearance

The security clearance is often a lengthy process. Normal circumstances take several months for the process to be completed. Additional requirements may be needed which can add months to the process. The security clearance includes:

  • Completion of the SF86 questionnaire online through eQip.
  • Fingerprints done in ink at a law enforcement facility or FAA.

Firm Offer Letter (FOL)

After HR receives the completed security and medical clearances, they will reach out to you to take the next steps. For those without prior experience they will ask you to set an academy date. For prior experience applicants, they will send a list of facilities for you to rank for preference. The Firm Offer Letter (FOL) will then be sent with either the academy start date, or facility assignment, along with starting salary information. For those who attend the academy, facility selection occurs at the end of the academy.

Learn more about how to pass the ATSA and the European FEAST Test.

Have a Question? Now You Can Ask TSA Test Prep!