Air traffic controllers
Air traffic controllers decide when and
where a plane can fly. They must be as prepared as
possible, but, because they never fully know what will
happen with the planes, they also must be flexible. If you
are organized, adaptable, and can make decisions rapidly
under pressure, you might enjoy a career in air traffic
Duties. Air traffic
controllers work at airports, Air Route Traffic Control
Centers, or Flight Service Stations. In each location,
these workers control flights within their airspace,
transferring to another controller the flights that leave
their space and receiving from other controllers the
flights that enter it.
Controllers at airports work in large
towers, directing air traffic in the terminal area so it
flows smoothly and efficiently. Tower controllers
typically begin the workday by talking to a flight service
specialist about weather conditions and flight plans. The
tower controller opens the tower, checks equipment, and
reviews the day’s flight plans on the computer.
Tower controllers give pilots taxiing and
takeoff instructions, air traffic clearances, and advice.
They base these communications on their own observations
and information they receive from the National Weather
Service, route traffic control centers, flight service
stations, and aircraft pilots.
To keep landing and departing aircraft
separate, tower controllers must be able to quickly recall
registration numbers of aircraft under their control, the
aircraft types and speeds, positions in the air, and the
locations of navigational aids or landmarks in the area.
Controllers working in route traffic
control centers give aircraft instructions, air traffic
clearances, and advice regarding conditions during flight.
They provide for separation between aircraft flying along
Federal airways or operating into or out of airports not
served by a terminal facility.
Control center controllers use computer
equipment, radio, radar, telephones, and other electronic
and manual devices to track the progress of flights within
the center’s airspace. The use of radar equipment
requires that they work in semi-darkness. And, unlike
tower controllers, center controllers never actually see
the aircraft that they control except as
"targets" on the radar scope.
Controllers working in flight service
stations provide preflight, in-flight, and emergency help
to pilots who request it. They communicate information
about both actual and forecast weather conditions, relay
air traffic control instructions, assist pilots in
emergencies, provide airport advisory service, and
initiate and participate in searches for late or missing
Directing the Nation’s air traffic can
be stressful, controllers say, but the pressure usually
ends at the conclusion of their shift. To minimize the
stress associated with the job, requirements specify that
controllers must work in their positions for no longer
than 2 consecutive hours and must take breaks. And at the
end of their shifts, controllers are done; they rarely
stay late or take work home with them.
Employment and earnings.
There were about 23,240 air traffic controllers in May
2006, according to BLS. Nearly all of them were employed
by the FAA—part of the Federal Government.
Air traffic controllers are among the
highest paid occupations in the United States. According
to BLS, median annual salaries of air traffic controllers
in May 2006 were $117,240.
Qualifications and training.
Applicants for air traffic controller positions must be no
older than age 30 and must not have reached their 31st
birthday at the time of appointment. They must be U.S.
citizens and able to speak English clearly enough to be
understood over radios, intercoms, and similar
According to the FAA, air traffic
controllers must demonstrate potential for learning and
performing this type of work. They show this potential
either by having gained work experience in technical
positions, by earning a bachelor’s degree to substitute
for the experience requirement, or by having a combination
of work experience and college credits, with 1 year of
undergraduate study equaling 9 months of general
experience. Certain kinds of aviation experience may be
substituted for these requirements.
The FAA also hires graduates of
FAA-approved postsecondary educational programs, current
or former Federal employees with prior air traffic control
experience, and former or retired military controllers.
Applicants to air traffic controller positions must
also pass an entry-level employment examination.
Candidates who successfully pass the employment exam and
are tentatively selected must also pass a medical exam
that includes vision and hearing tests, a security and
background investigation, and a pre-employment drug test.
Applicants who have no prior work
experience in air traffic control must achieve a
qualifying score on an FAA-authorized test. This test is
administered by computer and takes about 8 hours to
complete. Candidates must first apply for an opening and
then be selected to take the test.
Flight attendants are the face of the
airlines. They constitute most of the contact between
airlines and their customers, and they often are the basis
for comparison between airlines. A flight attendant’s
role is to assist passengers and ensure their safety
throughout the flight.
Duties. Flight attendants
first assist passengers in boarding the plane: checking
tickets, helping passengers stow their carry-on bags, and
answering questions. They help to prepare the plane’s
cabin for departure by closing and locking the doors;
checking the aisles, rows, and storage bins for loose
items; and ensuring that all passengers are safely seated.
Flight attendants make announcements
during flights using the in-cabin public address system.
And depending on the length of the flight and the time of
day, attendants are responsible for serving food and
beverages and providing blankets or other amenities during
In addition to passenger comfort,
passenger safety is an important part of the flight
attendants’ job. Flight attendants explain safety
procedures and make sure that each passenger follows
regulations, which they enforce as pleasantly as possible.
During emergencies, such as evacuations, they also direct
passengers in where to go and what to do.
Dealing with passengers often takes patience and
finesse. Some passengers may become unruly over
circumstances that may be out of the airlines’ control,
such as delays on the runway due to bad weather. Flight
attendants calm these passengers and try to remain
professional even during the most challenging situations.
But flight attendants’ work extends
beyond passenger care. Along with the rest of the crew,
attendants go to preflight briefings to learn from the
pilot about weather conditions, special passenger needs,
or other concerns related to the flight. Then, attendants
check all emergency equipment, the public address system,
and supplies of food, beverages, and other necessities.
When the plane lands, flight attendants
assist passengers in deplaning. Some airlines also require
attendants to tidy the cabin by performing tasks such as
folding blankets, wiping down equipment, and straightening
curtains or shades. Attendants also report in writing
about anything noteworthy related to the flight, including
minor medication given to passengers, articles lost or
found, and equipment requiring attention.
Passenger assistance, though, remains one of the things
that flight attendants say they like best about their
work. Helping passengers, while sometimes challenging, is
also rewarding: Attendants can lessen a traveler’s
distress or fear, making the flight more enjoyable for him
or her. And flight attendants are often outgoing, so they
enjoy meeting travelers from across the country and around
Employment and earnings.
Flight attendants held about 96,760 jobs in May 2006. Most
of them were with commercial airlines.
Median annual salaries of flight
attendants were $53,780 in May 2006, according to BLS.
Flight attendant pay is based almost entirely on seniority
and varies by airline, but attendants can increase their
earnings by working additional hours and flights. With
experience, flight attendants can become lead attendants
and get more or preferred assignments, such as
Qualifications and training.
The minimum age requirement for flight attendants is
usually 19, but most airlines prefer attendants who are at
least 21. Corrected vision, either with contact lenses or
glasses, is acceptable for flight attendants. Most
airlines also have rules relating to appearance, such as
acceptable grooming practices, required uniforms, and
maximum allowances for body weight that vary by height.
Flight attendants need good communication
skills. Fluency or some level of competence in a foreign
language may be required to work some international
Applicants should also have some previous
experience, especially in dealing with the public in a job
that focuses on customer service. Experience that proves
your independence and self-confidence is also helpful
because during flights, attendants often make decisions
independently. But experience need not be paid to be
considered valuable. Applicants should also note
meaningful volunteer work, such as assisting with a
political campaign, school committee, or community service
Flight attendants must have at least a
high school diploma or its equivalent, but many airlines
also require a minimum of 2 years in college or work
experience in customer service. A bachelor’s degree is
helpful when competing for jobs and is often preferred—and
may soon be required—by some airlines.
After they are hired, flight attendants have 3 to 8
weeks of training. This training covers all aspects of
their future duties, including emergency evacuation
procedures, first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and
passenger psychology. New hires must also learn FAA
regulations, food and beverage service procedures, and
methods for assisting certain passengers, such as
unaccompanied minors. Trainees also get airline-specific
instruction, including learning about its fleet of
aircraft and other types of equipment, to prepare them to
work on any type of plane.
At the end of this training, flight attendants become
certified by passing an FAA emergency procedures test and
an instructor-administered exam. Certified flight
attendants usually report immediately to their assigned
base of operations after graduation, sometimes working a
flight the following day.
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