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Air Traffic Controllers

Significant Points
  • The vast majority of air traffic controllers are employed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), an agency of the Federal Government.
  • Applicants without prior air traffic control experience must be 30 years of age or younger.
  • Replacement needs will continue to account for most job openings, reflecting the large number of air traffic controllers who will be eligible to retire over the next decade.
  • Competition for jobs will remain keen.
Nature of the Work

The National Airspace System (NAS) is a vast network of people and equipment that ensures the safe operation of commercial and private aircraft. Air traffic controllers work within the NAS to coordinate the movement of air traffic to make certain that planes stay a safe distance apart. Their immediate concern is safety, but controllers also must direct planes efficiently to minimize delays. Some regulate airport traffic through designated airspaces; others regulate airport arrivals and departures.

Terminal controllers watch over all planes traveling in an airport's airspace. Their main responsibility is to organize the flow of aircraft into and out of the airport. They work in either the control tower or the terminal radar approach control (TRACON) room or building. Relying on visual observation, the tower local controllers sequence arrival aircraft for landing and issue departure clearances for those departing from the airport. Other controllers in the tower control the movement of aircraft on the taxiways, handle flight data, and provide flight plan clearances. Terminal radar controllers manage aircraft departing from or arriving to an airport by monitoring each aircraft’s movement on radar to ensure that a safe distance is maintained between all aircraft under their control. In addition, terminal controllers keep pilots informed about weather and runway conditions.

Many different controllers are involved in the departure of an airplane. If the plane is flying under instrument flight rule conditions, a flight plan is filed prior to departure. The tower flight data controller receives the flight plan in the form of a flight strip, which is output from a computer, and arranges it in sequence. When an aircraft calls for clearance the clearance delivery controller issues the clearance and moves the strip over to the ground controller who manages the movement of aircraft on the airport surface, except the active runway. When the aircraft arrives at the active runway the strip is moved to the local controller who issues the departure clearance, observes the takeoff and turns the plane over to the departure controller. The TRACON departure controller identifies the plane on radar, climbs it, and directs it on course.

After each plane departs, terminal controllers notify en route controllers, who take charge next. There are 20 air route traffic control centers located around the country, each employing 300 to 700 controllers, with more than 150 on duty during peak hours at the busiest facilities. Airplanes usually fly along designated routes; each center is assigned a certain airspace containing many different routes. En route controllers work either individually or in teams of two, depending on how heavy traffic is; each team is responsible for a sector of the center’s airspace.

As the plane proceeds on its flight plan to its destination it is handed off from sector to sector both within the center and to adjoining centers. To prepare for planes about to enter the team’s sector, the radar associate controller organizes flight plans output from a printer into strip bays. If two planes are scheduled to enter the team’s sector in conflict, the controller may arrange with the preceding sector unit for one plane to change its flight path or altitude. As a plane approaches a team’s airspace, the radar controller accepts responsibility for the plane from the previous sector. The controller also delegates responsibility for the plane to the next sector when the plane leaves the team’s airspace.

When the plane is approximately 50 miles from the destination airport, it is handed off to that airport’s terminal radar arrival controller who sequences it with other arrivals, and issues an approach clearance. As the plane nears the runway, the pilot is issued a clearance to contact the tower. The local controller issues the landing clearance. Once the plane has landed, the ground controller directs it along the taxiways to its assigned gate. The local and ground controllers usually work entirely by sight, but may use airport surface radar if visibility is very poor.

Both airport tower and en route controllers usually control several planes at a time, often making quick decisions about completely different activities. For example, a controller might direct a plane on its landing approach and at the same time provide pilots entering the airport's airspace with information about conditions at the airport. While instructing these pilots, the controller also might observe other planes in the vicinity, such as those in a holding pattern waiting for permission to land, to ensure that they remain well separated.

In addition to airport towers and en route centers, air traffic controllers also work in flight service stations at 17 locations in Alaska. These flight service specialists provide pilots with preflight and in-flight weather information, suggested routes, and other aeronautical information important to the safety of a flight. Flight service specialists relay air traffic control clearances to pilots not in direct communications with a tower or center, assist pilots in emergency situations, and initiate and coordinate searches for missing or overdue aircraft. At certain locations where there is no airport tower or the tower has closed for the day, flight service specialists provide airport advisory services to landing and departing aircraft. However, they are not involved in actively managing and separating air traffic.

Some air traffic controllers work at the FAA's Air Traffic Control Systems Command Center in Herndon, VA, where they oversee the entire system. They look for situations that will create bottlenecks or other problems in the system and then respond with a management plan for traffic into and out of the troubled sector. The objective is to keep traffic levels in the trouble spots manageable for the controllers working at en route centers.

Work environment. During busy times, controllers must work rapidly and efficiently. Total concentration is required to keep track of several planes at the same time and to make certain that all pilots receive correct instructions. The mental stress of being responsible for the safety of several aircraft and their passengers can be exhausting. Unlike tower controllers, radar controllers also have the extra stress of having to work in semi-darkness, never seeing the actual aircraft they control except as a small “blip” on the radarscope. Controllers who work in flight service stations work in offices close to the communications and computer equipment.

Controllers work a basic 40-hour week; however, they may work additional hours, for which they receive overtime, or premium pay, or equal time off. Because most control towers and centers operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, controllers rotate night and weekend shifts. Contract towers and flight service station working conditions may vary somewhat from the FAA.

Air Traffic Control Specialist (Station), GS-2152-05

This is a trainee level for flight service specialists, designed to train them for work assignments characteristic of higher levels. The GS-5 specialist receives classroom and on-the-job training in various flight service functions and in the various kinds of work performed in stations. As training progresses and specialists become more familiar with the equipment and station procedures they perform some of the basic station duties such as operating basic communication equipment, sequencing and filing flight plans, or answering requests for specific information which may be determined by reference to standard manuals or handbooks.

The GS-5 employee is under direct supervision. Higher level specialists observe the work on a continuing basis to insure proper performance of tasks and to provide training in basic flight service skills.

Air Traffic Control Specialist (Station), GS-2152-07

GS-7 is a developmental level for flight service work. Specialists who enter at GS-7 receive training in the full range of flight service functions, and in addition, perform some of the basic operating tasks.

GS-7 flight service specialists perform such duties as: briefing pilots (under very close supervision and guidance); receiving and relaying military and civilian flight plans; relaying information to centers and terminals; taking weather observations; transmitting weather reports; and making scheduled broadcasts on station radio outlets.

Initially the GS-7 specialist is under direct supervision. As the GS-7 specialists progress through training, they work at routine assignments with more independence than the GS-5. On more difficult assignments, e.g., tasks that would otherwise be characteristic of the GS-9 level, they are supervised on a continuing basis and evaluated in terms of their potential to perform those tasks with greater independence.

Air Traffic Control Specialist (Station), GS-2152-09

GS-9 is the first level of independent performance of flight service assignments in stations which have the characteristics described below. The full performance level GS-9 flight service specialist performs, under general supervision, the duties of all positions of operation within the assigned flight service station. This level is distinguished from the next lower level by full responsibility for independent performance of the most difficult flight service tasks -- preflight pilot briefing, and maintaining communications with and providing assistance to en route aircraft. GS-7 specialists, on the other hand, are in a developmental stage with respect to performance of the more difficult tasks, and perform independently on only those positions of operation for which they have successfully completed the training and position qualification.

Also included at this level, but not specifically described, are advanced developmental positions in flight service stations where the full performance level specialist positions are evaluated at a higher grade.

Work Situation

Flight service stations at this level generally provide a full range of services including: preflight pilot briefing; maintaining communications with and providing assistance to en route aircraft; accepting and processing flight planning information; monitoring the operation of radio navigational aids; broadcasting weather information and storm advisories; and developing and disseminating information related to significant aeronautical conditions within their assigned area, e.g., notices concerning the operational status of radio navigational aids. At selected locations, GS-9 flight service specialists make and report scheduled weather observations, and advise Customs and Immigration services of trans-border flights.

Flight service stations at this level which are located at airports not served by an air traffic control tower (or during periods when the tower is closed) provide advisory services to aircraft using that airport. Such services include furnishing to arriving and departing aircraft winds and altimeter information, favored or designated runway and general location of known air traffic in the airport area. At some locations, the GS-9 specialists operate radio direction finding equipment to assist pilots who are lost or experiencing some type of in-flight emergency to a safe landing area.

The GS-9 level includes a range of flight service work situations. At the lower end of this range are those stations which are operated from eight to sixteen hours per day, and which primarily serve pilots at the airport where the station is located and other airports within the immediate vicinity of the station, e.g., within the local telephone dialing area. Also included at this level are those stations which operate the full twenty four hours, and whose flight plan area may include several (e.g., 5 to 12) public-use airports.

Flight service stations at this level primarily serve general aviation (private) pilots from the local area. At some locations, the station may also provide service to one or more military installations. General aviation aircraft based at public-use airports within the flight plan area range approximately from one to three hundred. Flight activity at the airports served is relatively light, e.g. generally less than 200,000 general aviation aircraft operations annually for all of the airports served. Few of these airports have traffic activity levels such as to require the services of an air traffic control terminal.

Level of Flight Service Activity

The demand for flight services at this level is characterized as being light to moderate. GS-9 flight service stations provide up to (but not including) 75,000 total services annually. Also typical of this level are those stations which provide less than 25,000 pilot briefings per year.

Air Traffic Control Specialist (Station), GS-2152-10

GS-10 represents an intermediate level of difficulty for full performance flight service work assignments. This level of difficulty is characterized by the requirement to provide significantly higher levels of service to pilots, both prior to and during flight, in work situations which overall impose additional knowledge and performance requirements on the individual specialist when compared with work assignments at the next lower grade.

Work Situation

Flight service stations at the GS-10 level typically operate on a full twenty-four hour work schedule to provide a range of preflight services and assistance to in-flight aircraft similar to that provided by stations at the next lower level. In addition, a number of stations at this level utilize weather radar equipment (remotely from the National Weather Service's primary radar) to detect and display the location, intensity and movement of significant weather activity. The real-time weather information provided by the radar is used in the preflight briefing of pilots and to provide weather advisories to in-flight aircraft. At these locations the specialists must be knowledgeable in the operation and adjustment of the radar equipment and have the ability to interpret radar displays, particularly with respect to the location and movement of weather systems which might pose a threat to aircraft.

A number of stations at this level are responsible for providing En Route Flight Advisory Service (EFAS) to airborne aircraft in their assigned geographic area. For flight service stations at this level, flight plan area characteristics are similar to those of stations at the GS-9 level. However, higher activity GS-10 stations may have responsibility for providing service to twenty-five or more public-use airports. Similarly, for the higher activity stations, the number of general aviation aircraft based at these airports may range up to eight hundred.

Level of Flight Service Activity

GS-10 stations provide levels of service ranging from medium through heavy. These stations annually provide from 75,000 up to (but not including) 300,000 total services. Also included at this level are those stations which provide at least 25,000 but less than 125,000 pilot briefings per year.

Air Traffic Control Specialist (Station), GS-2152-11

The GS-11 level includes positions at those flight service stations where especially demanding conditions exist in terms of the very highest levels of services that must be provided and the increased demands imposed by the environmental and operational characteristics of the area served by the flight service station.

The GS-11 level involves the most difficult and complex flight service work assignments. When compared to assignments at lower grades, the work at this level is more demanding due both to the substantially larger general aviation populations served and the higher level of demands on the skills, abilities and judgments of the individual specialist imposed by such factors as: the increased number of very high activity airports served; the additional local operating procedures which must be observed; the increased coordination required with the air traffic control facilities in the area; and the greater exposure to varied aviation interests, e.g., flying clubs, student pilots, transient flights, etc.

Work Situation

Flight service stations at the GS-11 level provide the full range of preflight and in-flight services similar to that provided by stations at GS-10. At a number of locations this includes providing En Route Flight Advisory Service to airborne aircraft. However, because they are typically located at airports which have an air traffic control terminal that is operational sixteen or more hours per day, few stations at this level provide the amount of airport advisory service characteristic of the lower level stations. On the other hand, because of the very high demand for pre-flight weather and aeronautical information, stations at this level generally employ a greater variety of techniques and equipment to dispense general weather information and pre-recorded route briefings, and to expedite the handling of flight plan data, thus to some extent relieving specialists of the more routine requests for service.

Flight service stations at this level typically serve major metropolitan areas having the highest levels of commercial, military and general aviation activity. This very high level of activity in turn generates a demand for flight services and assistance which is substantially greater than demands imposed on stations at the next lower grade. For example, GS-11 stations typically have from one to three thousand general aviation aircraft based within their flight plan area. In addition, the stations proximity to the major metropolitan area, or their location along heavily traveled airways, generates substantial amounts of itinerant business, industrial, and general aviation activity. This level of activity is further illustrated by stations where the associated airports (combined) typically handle in excess of one million general aviation aircraft operations annually. Several of the airports involved (e.g., 3 or more) handle sufficient volumes of traffic to warrant the services of an air traffic control terminal.

Level of Flight Service Activity

The demand for flight services at this level is characterized as extremely heavy. GS-11 stations provide 300,000 or more total services, or at least 125,000 pilot briefings per year.

Air Traffic Control Specialist (Terminal)

The duties, responsibilities, and qualifications required to control air traffic in terminals vary according to the type of aircraft operation (i.e. visual or instrument flight rules) and whether radar is used.

Visual Flight Rules Control

Pilots operating aircraft under visual flight rules (VFR) procedures assume responsibility to "see and be seen" and thus maintain their own separation from other aircraft. Controllers handling VFR aircraft rely on radio contact with the pilot and observation of aircraft movements in the airport traffic area as the basis for issuing control instructions to pilots. The controller is responsible for issuing clearances and traffic information to aircraft landing, departing or operating within the airport traffic area. The controller must have a knowledge of the flight and performance characteristics of a wide variety of aircraft, aircraft separation standards, and the skill and ability to keep air traffic properly separated on the runways and in the air.

Instrument Flight Rules Control

Pilots operating aircraft under instrument flight rules (IFR) rely on air traffic control to provide separation from other aircraft. Control of instrument traffic may be accomplished with or without the use of radar. In addition to the duties, responsibilities, and qualifications required in the control of visual flight rules traffic, the control of instrument flight rules traffic involves:

  • The use of information received from the center and from aircraft in flight regarding speed, altitude, and estimated and actual times over radio fixes, and a knowledge of airport capacity as a basis for determining whether to instruct aircraft to change altitude, hold at a radio fix, proceed to immediate landing, or take other specific action;
  • Determining the number of altitudes to be used at one or more holding fixes;
  • Directing aircraft from one altitude to another or from one radio fix to another to maintain safe and simultaneous movement; and
  • Determining the time and sequence of IFR aircraft movements to avoid conflicts between inbound, departing, and other traffic within the area under the control of the terminal.
  • Radar Control

    To control traffic using radar, the controller must possess and apply additional knowledge, skills and techniques. For this type of control, the controllers use radarscopes equipped with overlays or video mapping which depict runways, navigational aids, airspace boundaries, topographic features and other data pertinent to the control situation. By observation of aircraft on the radarscope in relation to these features, the controller issues very precise instructions to the pilot as to what headings to fly, when to ascend, descend or turn, and at what speed and altitude to fly. By continuously issuing instructions to pilots, the controller exercises a very positive and continuing control over each aircraft within the assigned airspace.

    Because of this positive and continuing control, the use of radar permits reduced separation among aircraft. The lesser separation requirements, however, increase the need for rapid and precise decisions. The radar controller must determine the exact moment for directing approach turns or directing aircraft away from other traffic; must carefully consider the effects of such factors as wind, weather and aircraft capabilities to determine the proper sequence of operations; and must mentally retain the identity of a number of aircraft and their projected movements within the assigned airspace.

    CATEGORIES OF TERMINALS

    Air traffic control terminals are differentiated into four major categories on the basis of the primary type of control services provided.

    Non-approach control terminal. This type of terminal handles primarily aircraft operating under visual flight rules. These terminals are located at those airports where the principal user category is general aviation aircraft. Although some of these airports may have significant amounts of other user categories such as military or air carrier, the great majority of the traffic is generated by general aviation flying. Controllers in the non-approach control terminals are responsible only for air traffic at or in the immediate vicinity of the airport on which the terminal is located. At some of these terminals, televised displays of the parent approach control facility's radar (i.e., BRITE) may be used to supplement visual observations, to aid in sequencing traffic and to provide air traffic advisories.

    Nonradar approach control terminal. In addition to handling aircraft operating under visual flight rules, this type of terminal also provides (without the use of radar) approach and departure control services to aircraft operating under instrument flight rules. This type of terminal is located at airports with user categories similar to non-approach control airports. In addition to providing air traffic control for the airport at which the tower is located, this type of terminal frequently controls traffic operating to and from one or more adjacent non-approach control airports.

    Limited radar approach terminal. This type of terminal provides radar approach control service to VFR and IFR aircraft operating within delegated airspace in the immediate vicinity of the airport, utilizing televised displays of the parent approach control facility's radar (BRITE). Limited radar approach control terminals are distinguished from those non-approach control terminals which may also use BRITE displays by the specific delegation of airspace by the parent approach control facility, and the provision of approach control services in the immediate vicinity of the airport. Non-approach control terminals, on the other hand, use the BRITE display to supplement visual observations, to aid in sequencing traffic and to provide air traffic advisories, and are not delegated control of airspace.

    Radar approach control terminal. This type of terminal provides radar control of aircraft operating to or from the primary airport and frequently adjacent airports, and the control of aircraft transiting the area under the control of the terminal. Airports served by this category of terminals include major air carrier airports as well as airports with significant amounts of traffic in other user categories.

    In contrast with other categories of terminals, radar approach control terminals are divided into two functional units, the radar or IFR room and the tower cab. Generally these two units are both located within the same terminal facility, with controllers alternately performing radar control and tower cab duties. However, in some few instances the radar room and tower cab are separate facilities, and controllers do not rotate between the two units. In some locations the radar service for a number of adjacent airports is provided from a combined or common radar room facility.

    At some few locations non-approach control terminals or nonradar approach control terminals are combined with flight service stations. At these combined facilities employees perform both the terminal control and flight service duties.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Terminal), GS-2152-05

    This is a trainee level for terminal controllers. The GS-5 learns to apply a basic knowledge of: air traffic rules; airport traffic control; communications operating procedures, rules and regulations; flight assistance service procedures; air navigation; aids to air navigation; aviation weather; landmarks, terrain, navigational aids and airway structure in the local area; and basic facility equipment.

    The GS-5 employee is under direct supervision. Higher level controllers observe the work on a continuing basis to insure proper performance of tasks and to provide training in basic controller skills.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Terminal), GS-2152-07

    This is a developmental level for terminal work. Terminal controllers who enter at GS-7 receive training in the subjects described at GS-5 and, in addition, perform some of the basic operating tasks required in terminals.

    Work performed at the GS-7 level includes such tasks as: preparing flight progress strips; operating flight data printers; relaying flight plans and arrival reports; obtaining clearances for instrument flights and entering them on flight progress strips; reporting arrival and departure time of instrument flights and relaying clearances, instructions, and advice to aircraft.

    Initially the GS-7 controller is under direct supervision. As GS-7 controllers progress through training, they work at routine assignments with more independence than the GS-5 controller. On more difficult assignments, e.g., tasks that would otherwise be characteristic of the GS-9 level, they are supervised on a continuing basis and evaluated in terms of their potential to perform those tasks with greater independence.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Terminal), GS-2152-09

    This is an advanced developmental level in terminals. GS-9 terminal controllers, under close supervision and guidance, assist controllers of higher grade in the performance of their duties. For example, GS-9 terminal controllers issue instructions to aircraft and vehicles on all parts of the airport except the runways in use. They issue taxi instructions, and relay departure clearances from the center to the terminal controller and to the pilot. They determine when aircraft and ground vehicles may safely cross active runways and issue instructions to avoid collision between vehicles and aircraft.

    At the outset of each assignment to a new kind of work, the GS-9 receives close supervision and guidance. As the GS-9 controller completes various phases of the developmental program, the work is spot-checked, and the GS-9 works with more independence than the GS-7 controller. GS-9 controllers are evaluated both on performance as a GS-9 and on their potential for progression to higher levels.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Terminal), GS-2152-10

    GS-10 is the first level of independent performance of all control functions in non-approach and nonradar approach control terminals. As a regular duty the GS-10 terminal controller performs, under general supervision the duties of all positions of operation in the terminal, issuing control instructions to aircraft operating under visual or instrument flight rules or combinations of both.

    In contrast, controllers at the GS-9 level (whether in nonradar or radar terminals) are in an advanced stage of the developmental program. GS-9 controllers perform tasks and assignments in direct assistance to higher grade controllers, or perform under general supervision a limited number of the less difficult control functions such as clearance delivery, flight data, or ground control.

    Knowledge, skills, and abilities required. In issuing instructions to aircraft operating under visual flight rules the GS-10 controller considers such factors as: position (both present and projected), speed, and direction of aircraft movement; performance characteristics of the aircraft being controlled (e.g., operating speed, rate of climb, and landing speed); and the runway(s) available for use. On the basis of these factors the controller determines: the order of departure that assures all aircraft equitable treatment; the time and direction of take-off and any necessary departure turns; the most efficient sequence of arrivals; the runway in use; and possible simultaneous use of other runways.

    In issuing instructions to aircraft operating under instrument flight rules, the GS-10 controller must know the location and type of air navigational aids in reference to the position of the aircraft being controlled. Combining this knowledge with information from the pilots and other air traffic facilities, the controller determines the time and sequence of aircraft movement to maintain separation among arriving and departing aircraft; and issues instructions to pilots to change altitude or course, to proceed from one radio fix to another, or to land.

    Complexity of the control environment. At the GS-10 level the control of either visual or flight rules traffic is complicated by such factors as a mix of aircraft with different operating speeds and characteristics; various combinations of student and experienced pilots; unfavorable terrain or other limitations such as noise avoidance areas; and the use of various combinations of converging, crossing or parallel runways.

    At this level, traffic demands on the terminal are such that the controllers may perform at the same time more than one function or position of operation (e.g., the ground control and flight data position) for many of the shift hours. Extensive or complicated local procedures, beyond standard air traffic control procedures, are generally not required to handle the traffic present. Coordination among controllers performing different control functions is readily achieved without resort to intricate or complex procedures. Controller/pilot contacts occur at a moderate pace, generally allowing adequate time to relay instructions and coordinate control actions with other aircraft.

    Traffic demands at the GS-10 level are characterized by a light to medium density of traffic. Rarely is there a requirement to handle on a recurring basis a heavy density of traffic. At this level, non-approach control terminals during the day and evening shifts typically handle an average of up to 34 aircraft operations per hour.

    Nonradar approach control terminals at the GS-10 level regularly handle average traffic densities ranging up to 24 aircraft and instrument operations per hour during these same shifts.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Terminal), GS-2152-11

    This level includes a variety of assignments and work situations in the terminals. GS-11 is typically the first full performance level of control work in radar approach control terminals. Also included at this level are full performance level control positions in non-approach control and nonradar approach control terminals where the performance requirements are substantially higher than at the GS-10 level.

    Knowledge, skills, and abilities required.

    Nonradar terminals.

    The kind of knowledge required at this level are similar to those typical of the GS-10 level. However, the skills, abilities and judgments required of the GS-11 controller are significantly influenced by the greater density of traffic which must be handled on a regular basis.

    The GS-11 controller must issue very exact and precise instructions in more complex (i.e., more heavily congested) control situations within more restrictive time allowances. More often than the GS-10 controller, the GS-11 must make such decisions as whether to land or circle arriving traffic and whether intervals between aircraft should be shortened or lengthened to assure adequate separation and the efficient movement of traffic. The increased complexity of the control environment imposes for the GS-11 problems of greater difficulty in the sequencing and spacing of aircraft, and greater complexity in determining the proper movements and course instructions, often accompanied by the need to amend instructions to numerous aircraft to avoid disrupting the traffic pattern. At this level more precise and frequent coordination with the pilots and the other controllers is typically required than at the next lower level.

    Radar terminals. GS-11 is the first level of independent performance of all control functions in radar terminals. Radar control of air traffic is more difficult than the nonradar control described at GS-10 because it requires, in addition to the detailed knowledge of nonradar air traffic control typical of this and lower levels, a thorough knowledge of the functions and interference characteristics of radar systems; knowledge of and the ability to apply the reduced aircraft separation standards possible under radar, and the requirement to maintain a more positive and continuing control of aircraft.

    Complexity of the control environment.

    Nonradar terminals. At this level traffic demands are such that the full range of positions of operation (local control, ground control, approach control, clearance delivery and flight data) are manned on a full or substantially full-time basis during day and evening shift hours. This is in contrast to the GS-10 level where traffic density is such that positions of operation are frequently combined for several hours during these shifts. Because of the increased number of operating positions and the increased congestion of traffic a significantly greater amount of coordination is required both within the terminal itself and with other air traffic facilities. Contacts with pilots are more frequent than at the GS-10 level.

    Formulating and issuing instructions requires more rapid and precise analysis of the effect of any specific instruction on more numerous aircraft than are characteristic of the GS-10 level. At this level a larger number of local procedures must be developed to safely and effectively deal with the traffic demands placed on the terminal.

    Complicating environment and operational factors similar to those described at GS-10 are present in the GS-11 control environment. However, the difficulties imposed by such factors as close proximity of other airports, mix of student and experienced pilots, and crossing or converging runways are intensified by the recurring heavy density of traffic typical at this level.

    Traffic demands at the GS-11 level are characterized by a heavy density and congestion of traffic. Aircraft operations at non-approach control terminals during day and evening shift hours typically average from 35 to 89 operations per hour. Nonradar approach control terminals at this level average from 25 to 79 aircraft and instrument operations during these same shifts.

    Radar terminals. Radar terminals at the GS-11 level typically require only a limited number (i.e., 2 to 3) of radar positions of operation, although some facilities may have larger number of radar positions established, but not operated during several hours of the day and evening shifts.

    Traffic demands are such that individual radar positions may handle more than one control function (e.g., both arrivals and departures) or assume responsibility for a relatively large segment of the terminal's assigned airspace. Radar terminals at this level typically have fewer and less complex configurations of airspace than terminal control situations at higher levels. As a result, coordination for the use of airspace is more readily achieved at this level.

    Complicating environmental and operational factors such as the presence of satellite airports, crossing or converging runways, tower en route operations, unfavorable terrain, and restricted areas are common at this level.

    Instrument operations for radar approach control terminals at this level are characterized as light to medium densities of traffic, and regularly range up to 19 per hour (average) during the day and evening shifts.

    Limited Radar Terminals. Limited radar approach control terminals typically handle up to 24 instrument operations hourly (average) during day and evening shift hours.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Terminal), GS-2152-12

    The GS-12 level is characterized by exceptionally difficult and complex nonradar work situations in the non-approach control and nonradar approach control terminals. Also included at this level are full performance control positions in radar approach control terminals where the performance requirements substantially exceed those required for radar control work at the GS-11 level.

    Knowledge, skills and abilities required.

    Nonradar terminals. This level is distinguished from GS-11 by the significantly higher level of skills, abilities and judgments required in regularly, and for sustained periods, handling an extremely heavy density of traffic. In the GS-12 nonradar terminal environment this much higher level of skills and abilities is required because of:

  • Continuous or near continuous communications between pilots and controller for extended periods;
  • Rapid and precise coordination of control actions among controllers and with air traffic facilities;
  • Increased number of aircraft positions, directions and speeds which must be assimilated and mentally updated with the rapid changes occurring in the traffic pattern;
  • Requirements for split second analysis of the traffic situation, and rapid and precise decision making; and
  • Frequent to constant use of all known procedures to expedite traffic.
  • The requirement for controlling an extremely heavy density of traffic for sustained periods results in the GS-12 controller facing a constantly changing pattern of traffic which presents more difficult sequencing and separation problems than the GS-11. In this situation a control instruction to one aircraft nearly always requires amending instructions to several aircraft to maintain adequate separation and expedite the flow of traffic. The GS-12 nonradar controller in this situation must consider many more alternatives than the GS-11, i.e., the more numerous effects which might result from a single control decision in the extremely congested GS-12 control environment require a more considered and faster analysis than is required at GS-11.

    Radar terminals. At this level, the kinds of knowledge, skills and abilities are similar to the next lower level. However, in comparison with the GS-11 radar controller who typically handles a light to medium density of traffic, the GS-12 controller is faced regularly with peaks of heavy traffic. Under the more restrictive time and space limitations imposed by the greater density of traffic there is the requirement for greater precision in determining appropriate aircraft movements and formulating control instructions; more intense and precise coordination among the controllers; consideration of the effect of action by any specific aircraft on a larger number of other aircraft in the terminal airspace; and consideration of a larger number of more rapidly changing aircraft positions and a greater variety of alternative actions for individual aircraft. During the recurring heavy density periods typical of this level the GS-12 coordinates control actions with other controllers and issues instructions to pilots almost simultaneously. Often this type of terminal provides radar service to a number of satellite airports. The difficulties imposed by such factors as the need to possess and apply knowledge of numerous procedures and airport configurations, procedures for satellite airports, noise abatement procedures and complex runway problems are substantially intensified by the heavy densities of traffic characteristic of GS-12 radar control.

    Complexity of the control environment.

    Nonradar terminals. Traffic demands are such that not only do the individual positions of operation become more specialized but frequently additional positions of operation must be established to handle the traffic which is present. For example, non-approach control terminals at this level may divide the local control function along the configuration of the airport into two or more positions of operation. In these situations more complex intra-terminal procedures are required than at the GS-11 level, and coordination of control actions becomes a critical aspect of the work.

    The extremely dense and congested traffic patterns result in few if any extended lulls in operations, and peak traffic hours tend to overlap. Controllers in this situation work under the most stressful of conditions for extended periods.

    The difficulties imposed by combinations of such factors as noise abatement procedures, mixtures of experienced and student pilots, high level of pilot training, natural terrain obstructions, and mixtures of aircraft with widely varying speeds are substantially intensified by the sustained periods of extremely heavy traffic characteristic of GS-12 nonradar work.

    Few non-approach control terminals will meet this level. Typically these are terminals which handle 90 or more aircraft operations hourly during day and evening shift periods. Similarly, few nonradar approach control terminals are likely to handle the 80 or more hourly aircraft and instrument operations typical of this level. Radar terminals. Radar terminals at this level, because of the heavy density of traffic present, generally require 4 to 6 radar positions to be operational during the day and evening shifts. Because of the traffic demands, these positions tend to become more specialized in the particular control functions which they perform e.g., a particular position may handle only arrival or departure traffic.

    More complex divisions of the control work and the assigned airspace are required at this level than in the GS-11 work situation. Thus more intricate procedures must be developed to insure that the necessary coordination is effected among controllers.

    The complicating environmental and operational factors described at the GS-11 level are intensified by the heavy density of traffic characteristic of this level. Such factors as several busy runways, a substantial volume of helicopter traffic, provision of radar service to a number of satellite airports, and restrictive noise abatement procedures influence the already high level of difficulty and complexity characteristic of the GS-12 level.

    Radar approach control terminals at this level typically handle from 20 to 59 instrument operations per hour (average) during the day and evening shift period. Limited Radar Terminals. Limited radar approach control terminals typically average from 25 to 59 hourly instrument operations during day and evening shift hours.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Terminal), GS-2152-13

    GS-13 includes extremely difficult, exacting, and complex control work in the radar approach control terminals. This level is characterized by the requirement for radar control of air traffic under very demanding conditions imposed by extremely heavy densities of traffic handled on a regular basis; sustained periods of peak traffic activity with few lulls for any extended periods; very complex configurations of the terminal airspace; and very intricate and complicated procedures for controlling and expediting traffic utilized almost continually.

    Knowledge, skills and abilities required. The GS-13 radar controller is distinguished from GS-12 by the significantly higher level of judgment, skill and ability required to control such an extremely heavy density of traffic that there are few lulls during which accumulated traffic can be easily moved. Thus an error in judgment could result in major delays that would impact the movement of air traffic over a large area of the country.

    The GS-13 controller regularly has a complex, congested and rapidly changing pattern of traffic under his control for prolonged periods. This pattern typically consists of a variety of aircraft with widely varying speed and performance characteristics.

    Under the conditions of extremely heavy density and congestion characteristic of the GS-13 level, controlling aircraft with widely varying performance characteristics requires an exceptionally high level of ability, and rapid and precise judgments. Such problems as determining what headings to issue to aircraft, and the precise moment to issue sequencing and spacing instructions so that separation is maintained (i.e., fast aircraft do not overtake slower ones) are substantially more complex than at the GS-12 level. To handle traffic under these conditions for prolonged periods of time requires the GS-13 controller to plan, listen, speak and act almost simultaneously. Each sequence of control movements requires contacting several pilots and coordination with other controllers. Under these conditions, unexpected situations such as a sudden new rush of traffic, a declared emergency by an aircraft, or a sudden and severe change in weather conditions at the airport present problems of exceptional complexity for the GS-13 controller.

    Complexity of the control environment. Characteristic of this level are those terminals which regularly handle an extremely heavy density and congestion of air traffic, significantly heavier than the peak traffic periods characteristic of the GS-12 level. Also typical of this level are very complex configurations and sectorization of terminal airspace. This is reflected in a larger number of navigational aids and specialized local procedures than is typical of the GS-12 level. Radar positions of operation at this level are more numerous and perform more specialized control functions. Because of the extremely heavy congestion of traffic as many as 7 to 10 radar positions may be required to handle such specialized functions as air traffic arrivals; departure traffic; operations at satellite airports; or the control of traffic transiting the assigned terminal area. Runway configurations are among the most complex and change frequently, requiring that controllers switch to different procedures for handling traffic many times during a typical work shift. Radar terminals at this level are typically located at major air carrier hub airports. These facilities are key terminals in the sense that delays occurring at these locations impact the movement of traffic over a large area of the country.

    The demands placed on the skill, ability and judgment of controllers at this level by such factors as a large number of extremely complex configurations of airspace, restrictive arrival and departure corridors, complex and constantly changing runway configurations, noise abatement procedures, and mixtures of aircraft of different speed and weight categories are severely intensified by the extremely heavy density and congestion of traffic handled by the terminal, when compared to the relative difficulty and complexity of the terminal control environment at the GS-12 level. The GS-13 radar controller has an extremely complex, congested and rapidly changing pattern of aircraft under control for prolonged periods. Pilot contacts and coordination with other controllers are practically continuous. The GS-13 level controller works under almost constant pressure to make exacting decisions, since errors in judgment or failure to expedite traffic could result in a major slowdown.

    Radar approach control terminals characteristic of this level of difficulty and complexity regularly handle on the average from 60 to 99 instrument operations hourly during day and evening shift periods. Limited Radar Terminals. Limited radar approach control terminals typical of this level handle 60 or more instrument operations hourly (average) during day and evening shift periods.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Terminal), GS-2152-14

    The GS-14 level includes the most difficult and complex control work in the radar approach control terminals. The GS-14 work situation involves radar control under the most demanding and stressful conditions, which surpass the difficulties inherent in the radar work situation typical of the GS-13 level.

    This level of control work is characterized by the requirement for handling sustained traffic densities that are appreciably greater than the extremely heavy densities of traffic typical of the GS-13 level. The pace of work is such that there are virtually no lulls in activity with peak periods tending to overlap. Continual, rapid and very precise coordination of control actions is required, not only within the terminal, but also between the terminal and the adjacent center(s) to accept or handoff aircraft.

    This level of traffic activity requires the use of the most complex configurations of airspace and application of the most intricate and complicated procedures. Controllers in the work situation are under continuous pressure to move traffic rapidly to avoid excessive and costly holding of aircraft in the air or on the ground. They generally work with little relief from stress associated with such a demanding control situation, yet must remain calm and objective in the face of possible tension on the part of pilots whose flights are being delayed or held in the air. The GS-14 work situation is further differentiated from GS-13 by the significantly greater scope and effect of the work, i.e., the critical importance of the most efficient and expeditious handling of air traffic to the operation of the national air traffic system, and the potentially adverse economic impact resulting from failure to maintain the highest levels of traffic activity. Failure to move traffic effectively at these terminals could result in nationwide air traffic problems as opposed to the more limited traffic bottlenecks in terminals with GS-13 work situations.

    Operations for terminals at this level are critical to air carriers in that excessive delays would seriously impair aircraft turnaround and redistribution, and the carriers' ability to meet passenger and cargo schedules resulting in substantial economic impact. Such terminals, in addition to serving major population centers, extend service to other terminals throughout a major segment of the country. These terminals are geographically located so as to serve as the hub of a large number of heavily traveled air routes.

    Five radar terminals are currently identified as having work situations characteristic of this level: the New York Common IFR Room, Chicago O'Hare, Atlanta International, Oakland Bay TRACON, and the Los Angeles International terminals. These five are differentiated from terminals at the GS-13 level primarily by the most extreme peaks of continuous air traffic density and congestion; the critical importance of these terminals to the nationwide movement of air traffic; and by the highly adverse economic impact which would result from a failure to continuously provide the most efficient and expeditious handling of air traffic. Radar terminals at this level regularly handle 100 or more instrument operations hourly (average) during day and evening shift hours.

    The five radar terminals identified as having work situations characteristic of the GS-14 level should not be construed as forever excluding other facilities from attaining this level, or forever including the five terminals specifically identified. Changes in the patterns of air traffic activity plus the anticipated growth in aviation may alter both the number and identification of terminals having work situations characteristic of the GS-14 level.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Center)

    Center control functions

    The primary function of the air route traffic control centers is the control and separation of air traffic within designated controlled airspace, along the airways and over certain oceanic routes. A network of centers located throughout the country and in certain areas outside the continental United States provides for an orderly flow of en route traffic and the interchange of traffic control between adjacent centers and the terminals.

    In addition to controlling en route traffic, the centers also provide control services for IFR aircraft operating, during certain periods, to and from nonapproach control airports. Workload permitting, the centers provide advisory services to aircraft operating under visual flight rules. Such advisory service to pilots includes information as to the status of navigational aids, other air traffic of concern to the pilot, weather and airport conditions, and the status of restricted and military operating areas.

    In airspace designated as positive control airspace, all air traffic is under the mandatory control of the centers. Safety requires positive control of the higher speed and performance aircraft which use that airspace. These aircraft fly too fast and high to rely on the "see and be seen" principle employed under visual flight rules procedures by slower speed aircraft at lower altitudes.

    To fly within controlled airspace under instrument flight rules the pilot must file a flight plan which identifies the aircraft, its origin and destination, proposed route of flight, speed and proposed altitude. Based on traffic conditions, the center initiating control of the flight issues clearances specifying the route and authorized altitude, and when necessary, the time and initial direction for the departure.

    Flight plan information is computer processed in the center to inform controllers within the facility initiating control of the flight that the aircraft will be entering their airspace and flying a specified route. The computer processed flight plan (flight progress strip) is forwarded to all adjacent centers which will control the aircraft during the course of the flight and to the destination terminal.

    Through the analysis of the flight progress strip information and constant radar surveillance, the center controller issues instructions to pilots on the proper flight headings and altitudes to maintain separation from other aircraft, to space arrivals and departures, to avoid severe weather, and to remain clear of restricted flight areas. The center retains control of aircraft until they are released to an adjacent center or the destination terminal.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Center), GS-2152-05

    This is a trainee level for center controllers. GS-5 center controllers receive training and indoctrination in such subjects as: air traffic rules; airport traffic control; communications operating procedures; principles of flight; air navigation; aids to air navigation; aviation weather; and terrain, navigational aids, reporting fixes and airway structure in the center's control area.

    GS-5 employees are under direct supervision. Higher level controllers observe the work on a continuing basis to insure proper performance of tasks and to provide training in basic controller skills.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Center), GS-2152-07

    This is a developmental level for center controllers. GS-7 center controllers receive training in the subjects described at GS-5 and, in addition, perform some of the basic tasks required in center work.

    GS-7 center controllers perform such tasks as receiving, processing, and delivering flight plan information; operating the communications system; entering flight data into the computer and coordinating flight data processing problems; servicing the flight data strip printer; and processing flight plans manually.

    Initially, the GS-7 controller is under direct supervision. As the GS-7 progresses through training, the employee works at routine assignments with more independence than the GS-5 controller. On less routine tasks, e.g., those that would otherwise be characteristic of the GS-9 level, GS-7 controllers are evaluated in terms of their potential to perform those tasks with greater independence.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Center), GS-2152-09

    This is an advanced developmental level for center controllers. Under close supervision and guidance, GS-9 center controllers assist controllers of higher grade by performing various control tasks.

    GS-9 center controllers perform such duties as: recording clearances and control information on flight data strips; relaying clearances; entering flight data into the computer; maintaining a continuous record of traffic; reviewing proposed and active flight plans to resolve discrepancies; sequencing of flight progress strips; and coordinating with other center controllers.

    At the time of each assignment to a new kind of work, the GS-9 receives close supervision and guidance. As the GS-9 controller completes various phases of the developmental program, the work is spot-checked and the GS-9 works with more independence than the GS-7 controller. Employees are evaluated both on their performance as a GS-9 and on their potential for progression to higher levels.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Center), GS-2152-11

    GS-11 center controller assignments vary between the performance of control functions as a team member, and assignments geared to qualify the controller to operate a limited number of radar control positions.

    As a team member, GS-11 center controllers assist radar controllers of higher grade by performing such work assignments as: establishing and maintaining separation of aircraft using non-radar (manual) procedures; sequencing of air traffic for orderly handoff; accomplishing handoffs with adjacent controllers or facilities; issuing departure clearance, beacon code and altitude assignments; employing holding procedures; and providing in-flight weather advisories.

    In comparison with the GS-9 controller who sequences traffic and issues clearances to pilots directly or indirectly, the GS-11 controller plans aircraft movements and issues instructions directly to the pilot. GS-11 center controllers make more frequent and difficult decisions than the GS-9 controller because of the greater complexity in sequencing aircraft and determining their movements, and the need for more frequent coordination with pilots and other controllers. More frequently than the GS-9, the GS-11 must provide approach or en route clearances to pilots and furnish information to other controllers regarding traffic entering their sectors. The GS-11, therefore, has less time for acting or reacting, for correcting mistakes or for clarifying instructions than does the GS-9.

    The GS-11 controller has the added responsibility for such actions as executing shortened holding patterns to expedite aircraft movements, and directing deviations from normal courses and speeds to reduce potential delays, which the GS-9 controller is not normally called upon to do.

    At this level controllers apply previous training and on-the-job qualification to operate, under general supervision, a limited number of radar control positions. This is in contrast to the GS-9 level where the emphasis is more on training to provide basic radar control skills and techniques.

    Controllers at this level receive only general guidance and supervision while performing the duties of those positions of operation on which they have qualified. Developmental on-the-job assignments to qualify on radar control positions are performed under the technical direction of full performance level controllers.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Center), GS-2152-12

    The GS-12 level of difficulty and complexity is characterized by the first full performance level of radar control in the centers. At this level controllers perform, under general supervision, the duties of all radar positions of operation within an assigned area of specialization in those centers which typically handle traffic densities ranging up to 169 IFR aircraft handled per hour (average) during the day and evening shift periods.

    GS-12 level controllers are responsible for the independent control and separation of aircraft under the reduced separation standards typical of radar control. This is distinguished from manual control assignments at the GS-11 level because radar involves more positive and continuous control over aircraft than does the GS-11 manual control work situation.

    Because of the reduced separation standards in radar control, the GS-12 level requires more precise and rapid judgments than GS-11 in applying a comprehensive knowledge of the operating characteristics of a wide variety of aircraft. With the lesser distances separating aircraft operating at widely varying speeds, the GS-12 controller must react more quickly, with far less tolerance for error, to prevent potential conflict situations than the GS-11.

    The GS-12 radar controller has a more constant control responsibility because radar displays the traffic situation continuously. Thus, in this situation, the GS-12 radar controller must continually issue instructions to pilots on what headings to follow to maintain separation, what altitudes to fly to remain clear of traffic, and what maneuvers are necessary to avoid severe weather or to remain clear of restricted or special military operations areas.

    GS-12 control assignments are distinguished from similar assignments at the GS-11 level by the greater degree of freedom from supervision and the requirements for performing the duties of a much broader range of radar positions. Where at the GS-11 level assignments are geared to qualify the controllers to perform the duties of less than the full scope of the radar positions, GS-12 full performance level assignments involve the independent performance of radar control duties for all sectors within an area of specialization.

    Center control work at this level is characterized by the presence of such complicating environmental and operational factors as: size and configuration of center airspace; mixture of arriving, departing and en route traffic; mixtures of aircraft with widely varying operating speeds and weights; unfavorable terrain features; military operations and restricted areas; a large number of navigational aids and reporting fixes; numerous airports and airways in the area; and the regular occurrence of special military missions and training operations. A substantial number of these or similar complicating factors are found in the GS-12 situations on a regular and recurring basis.

    The GS-12 center controller must have a detailed knowledge of: all techniques and procedures for separation and control of air traffic using radar; the special operating procedures for all radar positions of operation within the assigned area of specialization; the letters of agreement and operational procedures for coordinating traffic flows with other air traffic facilities adjacent to the area of specialization; the procedures pertaining to military operations and training areas; and the traffic patterns and flows characteristic of the area of specialization.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Center), GS-2152-13

    The GS-13 level involves extremely difficult and complex radar control work in the centers, and places exceptional demands on the GS-13 radar controller, which surpass the difficulty inherent in the GS-12 radar control assignment. Where GS-12 center controllers regularly handle traffic densities ranging up through heavy, the GS-13 center work situation involves recurring traffic densities which are characterized as extremely heavy and range on the average from 170 to 274 IFR aircraft handled hourly.

    GS-13 full performance level controllers, like those at the next lower level, regularly perform the duties of all radar positions of operation within an assigned area of specialization. However, the characteristics of the GS-13 level work situation impose on the controller the requirement for a substantially higher level of skill, judgment, and decision making abilities than the GS-12 work situation.

    The greatly increased traffic density at the GS-13 level not only imposes the requirement for controlling appreciably more aircraft within closer tolerances, but there is less time to analyze traffic situations, formulate the control decision and communicate these instructions to the greater number of aircraft occupying the airspace. Planning and coordinating the movements of the greater number of aircraft with different speed and performance characteristics, requires almost constant communications between controllers and pilots for sustained periods.

    The extremely heavy density and congestion of air traffic typical of this level requires almost continuous use of minimum separation among aircraft and severely limits the number of alternatives that might otherwise be employed to control and separate traffic. Consequently the GS-13 controller works at a much faster pace and under greater stress than the GS-12.

    Thus, a substantially higher level of control skill, judgment and decision-making ability are required at this level than at GS-12. Because of the greater congestion of traffic present in the GS-13 level control situation, these centers must devise a larger number of more intricate and complex sector configurations of airspace. With the increased intricacy and complexity of airspace configurations, the GS-13 controller must maintain an intense knowledge of more complex and precise control procedures to insure that proper separation is maintained and that aircraft under his control do not penetrate airspace assigned other controllers without prior coordination. For example, under the time and space limitations imposed by the sustained congestion and density of traffic characteristic of the GS-13 level control environment, the center controller for prolonged periods must separate and place intrail many types of aircraft operating at widely varying speeds (e.g., 200 knots or better), descending from various altitudes, crossing and converging from several directions. In such situations the GS-13 controller must use to a significantly greater extent than the GS-12 his knowledge of:

  • the general relation of speed to descent rate at various speeds and altitudes for many types and weight categories of aircraft;
  • the effect of seasonal temperature variances on the operational parameters of aircraft;
  • the relation of indicated airspeed to groundspeed at different altitudes; and
  • the minimum and maximum operating speeds and climb rates for each type of aircraft under control.
  • Those complicating environmental and operational factors described at GS-12 are present in the GS-13 work situation, but the extremely heavy density and congestion of air traffic characteristic of the GS-13 level materially increases the difficulty of the problems that combinations of these factors present to the GS-13 controller. The extremely heavy density of traffic typical of this level leaves less airspace for each aircraft and requires minimum separation among aircraft. Consequently, the GS-13 controller must work with greater speed, within closer tolerances and under more stressful conditions than the GS-12.

    Similarly, the sustained and extremely heavy density of traffic characteristic of this level greatly intensifies the difficulty and complexity of such problems as those involved in controlling and coordinating the movements of a much greater combination of arriving, departing and en route traffic on crossing or converging flight patterns at and around numerous high activity airports. For example, more frequently and for longer periods the GS-13 controller must change aircraft from intrail to vertical separation over holding fixes. Because of the much greater density of traffic controlled for longer periods, the GS-13 must exercise greater judgment and make quicker decisions than the GS-12 so as to assure that holding aircraft are in the correct positions to proceed in the proper direction and sequence when the saturation condition clears. Errors in judgment, or the failure to make rapid and precise decisions, in such situations as these, could cause major delays and bottlenecks along heavily used airway routes and at major airport terminals, ultimately impacting the efficient movement of traffic over a large area of the country.

    Air Traffic Control Specialist (Center), GS-2152-14

    The GS-14 level includes the most difficult and complex air traffic control work situations in the centers. The GS-14 level work situation involves controlling the most extreme and continuous peaks of traffic density and congestion under the most demanding and stressful conditions, which surpass the difficulties inherent in the GS-13 level control situation.

    This level of control work is characterized by the requirement for handling sustained traffic densities that are appreciably greater than those extremely heavy densities of traffic typical of the GS-13 level. The pace of work is such that there are virtually no lulls in activity with peak periods tending to blend and overlap. Continual, rapid, and precise coordination of control actions is required among the center controllers and with controllers in adjacent terminals and centers to insure efficient and rapid interchange of the control of air traffic.

    Controllers in this work situation are under continuous pressure to move traffic rapidly and efficiently so as to avoid excessive and costly holding of aircraft. They must apply a thorough knowledge of the procedures, action plans and problems of the major terminals served. They generally work with little relief from the stress associated with such a demanding control situation, yet must remain calm and objective in the face of possible tension on the part of pilots whose flights are being delayed on the ground or held in the air.

    The GS-14 level is further differentiated from GS-13 by the significantly greater scope and effect of the work, i.e., the critical importance of the most efficient and expeditious handling of air traffic to the effective operation of the national air traffic system, and the potentially adverse economic impact resulting from failure to maintain efficient movement of traffic during these highest levels of traffic activity. Failure to perform effectively in this situation could result in nationwide air traffic bottlenecks and slowdowns as opposed to the more limited traffic problems which would be caused by a similar lack of efficiency in centers with GS-13 level work situations.

    Excessive traffic delays or slowdowns incurred by centers at this level would seriously impair airline operations by disrupting equipment turnaround and redistribution, require the excessive use of fuel, and cause delays in passenger and cargo schedules, all of which would result in great inconvenience to the general public and in substantial economic impact on major industries.

    Three of the air route traffic control centers are currently identified as having work situations characteristic of this level, the Chicago, New York, and Cleveland centers. The three are differentiated from centers at the GS-13 level by the significantly greater traffic densities handled on a continuous basis; the critical importance of these centers to efficient operation of the national air traffic system; and the substantial economic impact which would result from failure to accept and efficiently handle the exceedingly high air carrier traffic densities. Centers at this level regularly handle 275 or more IFR aircraft hourly (average).

    The three centers identified as having work situations characteristic of the GS-14 level should not be construed as forever excluding other centers from attaining this level, or forever including the three centers specifically identified. Changes in the patterns of air traffic activity plus the anticipated growth in aviation may alter both the number and identification of centers having work situations which meet the criteria for the GS-14 level.

    Individual Occupational Requirements

    To become an air traffic controller with the FAA, a person must achieve a qualifying score on the FAA-authorized pre-employment test and meet the basic qualification requirements in accordance with Federal law. Those without prior air traffic control experience must be 30 years of age or younger.

    Education and training. There are three main pathways to become an air traffic controller with the FAA. The first is air traffic controllers with prior experience through either the FAA or the Department of Defense as a civilian or veteran. Second are applicants from the general public. These applicants must have 3 years of progressively responsible full-time work experience, have completed a full 4 years of college, or a combination of both. In combining education and experience, 1 year of undergraduate study—30 semester or 45 quarter hours—is equivalent to 9 months of work experience. The third way is for an applicant to have successfully completed an aviation-related program of study through the FAA’s Air Traffic-Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI) program. In 2008, there were 31 schools in the AT-CTI program.

    AT-CTI program schools offer 2–year or 4-year non-engineering degrees that teach basic courses in aviation and air traffic control. In addition to graduation, AT-CTI candidates need a recommendation from their school before being considered for employment as an air traffic controller by the FAA.

    Candidates with prior experience as air traffic controllers are automatically qualified for FAA air traffic controller positions. However, applicants from the general public and the AT-CTI program must pass the FAA-authorized pre-employment test that measures their ability to learn the duties of a controller. The test is administered by computer and takes about 8 hours to complete. To take the test, an applicant must apply under an open advertisement for air traffic control positions and be chosen to take the examination. When there are many more applicants than available testing positions, applicants are selected randomly. However, the FAA guarantees that all AT-CTI students in good standing in their programs will be given the FAA pre-employment test. Those who achieve a qualifying score on the test become eligible for employment as an air traffic controller. Candidates must be granted security and medical clearance and are subject to drug screening. Additionally, applicants must meet other basic qualification requirements in accordance with Federal law. These requirements include United States citizenship and the ability to speak English.

    Upon selection, employees attend the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, OK, for 12 weeks of training, during which they learn the fundamentals of the airway system, FAA regulations, controller equipment, and aircraft performance characteristics, as well as more specialized tasks. Graduates of the AT-CTI program are eligible to bypass the Air Traffic Basics Course, which is the first 5 weeks of qualification training at the FAA Academy.

    After graduation from the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, candidates are assigned to an air traffic control facility and are classified as “developmental controllers” until they complete all requirements to be certified for all of the air traffic control positions within a defined area of a given facility. Generally, it takes new controllers with only initial controller training between 2 and 4 years, depending on the facility and the availability of facility staff or contractors to provide on-the-job training, to complete all the certification requirements to become certified professional controllers. Individuals who have had prior controller experience normally take less time to become fully certified. Controllers who fail to complete either the academy or the on-the-job portions of the training usually are dismissed. Controllers must pass a physical examination each year and a job performance examination twice each year. Failure to become certified in any position at a facility within a specified time also may result in dismissal. Controllers also are subject to drug screenings as a condition of continuing employment.

    Other qualifications. Air traffic controllers must be articulate to give pilots directions quickly and clearly. Intelligence and a good memory also are important because controllers constantly receive information that they must immediately grasp, interpret, and remember. Decisiveness also is required because controllers often have to make quick decisions. The ability to concentrate is crucial because controllers must make these decisions in the midst of noise and other distractions.

    Advancement. At airports, new controllers begin by supplying pilots with basic flight data and airport information. They then advance to the position of ground controller, local controller, departure controller, and, finally, arrival controller. At an air route traffic control center, new controllers first deliver printed flight plans to teams, gradually advancing to radar associate controller and then to radar controller.

    Controllers can transfer to jobs at different locations or advance to supervisory positions, including management or staff jobs—such as air traffic control data systems computer specialist—in air traffic control, and top administrative jobs in the FAA. However, there are only limited opportunities for a controller to switch from a position in an en route center to a tower.

    Employment

    Air traffic controllers held about 26,200 jobs in 2008. The vast majority were employed by the FAA, while a small number of civilian controllers also work for the U.S. Department of Defense. In addition to controllers employed by the Federal Government, some work for private air traffic control companies providing service to non-FAA towers and contract flight service stations.

    Job Outlook

    Air traffic controllers should experience about as fast as average employment growth, but most opportunities are expected to result from the need to replace workers who retire or leave the occupation for other reasons. Keen competition is expected for air traffic controller positions.

    Employment change. Employment of air traffic controllers is projected to grow by 13 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. Increasing air traffic will require more controllers to handle the additional work. Job growth, however, is not expected to keep pace with the increasing number of aircraft flying due to advances in technology.

    The FAA is implementing an automated air traffic control system that will allow controllers to more efficiently deal with the demands of increased air traffic. It includes the replacement of aging equipment and the introduction of new systems, technologies, and procedures to enhance safety and security and support future aviation growth. Future developments will include the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) to eliminate radar-based air traffic control and give controllers real-time displays of aircraft locations. This will allow for more efficient flight paths and reduced air traffic congestion, and it will also allow controllers to handle more traffic, increasing their productivity.

    Job prospects. Most job opportunities are expected as the result of replacement needs from workers leaving the occupation. The majority of today's air traffic controllers will be eligible to retire over the next decade, although not all are expected to do so. Despite the increasing number of job openings for air traffic controllers, competition to get into the FAA Academy is expected to remain keen, as there generally are many more test applicants than there are openings.

    Air traffic controllers who continue to meet the proficiency and medical requirements enjoy more job security than do most workers. While demand for air transportation declines during recessions, controllers are rarely laid off.

    Additional Sources

    For further information on how to qualify and apply for a job as an air traffic controller, contact the FAA:

    • Federal Aviation Administration, 800 Independence Ave. SW., Washington, DC 20591. Internet: http://www.faa.gov

    For further information on air traffic controllers, contact:

    • National Air Traffic Controllers Association, 1325 Massachusetts Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20005. Internet: http://www.natca.org/

    Information on obtaining Air Traffic Controller positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.gov or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.

    Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, and
    OPM's Position Classification Standards for White Collar Work


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