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Author Topic: Should I Go the ATC Route?  (Read 4668 times)
greenshogun
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« on: October 04, 2013, 01:50:19 PM »

I am currently enrolled in college as a Geographic Information Systems major. After taking a career evaluation test, one of the top recommended careers for my skill set, personality, character, and ethics was ATC. I'm looking into following that route but I have no idea of what the ATC community is like, how stressful it is, and what are some paths a person in my situation might take in order to get there. I was thinking the most economic and attractive way would be to go through the USAF. I guess my questions are:

1. Is being an ATC fulfilling?

2. How is the job market looking now? Are there any jobs available for new comers?

3. Has anyone gone through the Air Force route? What does that entail?

4. What are the disadvantages or the cons of being an ATC?

5. What are the advantages or pros?

Hope someone out there gets this and can help me out.

Thank you very much!
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jermscentral
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« Reply #1 on: October 24, 2013, 10:44:22 PM »

I've been in ATC for three years and at age 30 would never want to do anything else. In my former life, I worked in computer networking and at a call center/help desk, and this career has been a Godsend for me.

1. This career is absolutely fulfilling. You are actively responsible for the safety of the flying public, a huge responsibility that makes you go home feeling good at the end of the day. Until I got in this career, I looked forward to every weekend I got. Now, I love my job and love getting to go to work, because I don't feel like I *have* to work.

2. The job market is, unfortunately, not so good right now. There is currently a backlog of new hires in the system that haven't even been processed into facilities yet because of funding and other slowdowns. It took me over two years to get into the career after applying, and that was in the middle of the off-the-street hiring spree that happened in the latter half of the last decade. I lucked out applying/getting in when I did. Now, the military is likely the safest route, as you have a career should the FAA side not work out. That doesn't necessarily happen for those that go to CTI schools, rack up $100k+ debt getting an ATC degree, and think they are guaranteed a job with the FAA only to find out it doesn't work that way, and now they have a degree that doesn't necessarily transfer to other careers. There are occasional postings on USAJOBS.gov, but those are primarily for current federal employees. Every so often, you'll see a posting for CTI or VRA (military vets), but with the glut of new hires in the pipeline, don't expect to see any for a while.

3. I was an off-the-street hire, so I can't help you there. We do have some former Air Force controllers in our ranks, however.

4. Disadvantages/cons. Well, it depends on how you look at it. I have a wife that's a nurse, so we understand each other's weird schedules. If you're into not seeing your spouse or kids often, it's great. We're DINKs for the time being, so the kid factor doesn't come into play, but it does suck to be apart a lot. If you're into hanging out with friends on the weekends, give that up until you have high enough seniority to bid the schedule lines that get weekends off. Expect to have a schedule that puts your days off somewhere in the middle of the week for a little while. It's fun when you can go grocery shopping and do all your errands with short lines in the middle of the week when everyone else is at work, but missing weekend activities can suck. Stress is a given job hazard, but it's all in how you handle what's given to you. Training sucks, plain and simple. It's not really a con, but just an FYI-- you don't get any flight benefits, like free airfare, but for training purposes, we do have a program that lets us fly in the cockpit up to twice a year after a long approval process. Oh, and one potentially big con: you work for the government and are subject to government shutdowns where you won't get paid until everything is running. You're also seen as making too much money as a federal employee, so your benefits and salary are always at risk of being taken away or being frozen, though the union does its best to protect your interests.

5. Advantages/pros. I spent college plus 7 years trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, figuring I was doomed to attempting to climb the corporate ladder my whole career, and that was no fun. After I got into ATC, I became the happiest I've ever felt in a job (just ask my wife). Work doesn't come home with you; every day is different; you make fun of your co-workers all day long (and they gladly return the favor; silence in your presence means they don't like you); you have a great salary with great benefits; you work in a career that makes all your friends say, "Wow, that's awesome/must be stressful!"; you have the option of moving "up" to other facilities with higher traffic, or you can move down to a lower traffic facility (and take a potential pay cut); after some seniority, you get to pick who you work with; and you end up speaking a language that is only understood by those in your profession -- which can be a con unless you have a sweet wife that at least seems to pick up on some of it and is quite a trooper when it comes to listening to you talk about planes all day.
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RonR
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« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2013, 09:55:57 AM »

Hello Jerm,

I want you to know I sat here and read your post with great interest.  I have been plane nuts since as long as I can remember.  In my teens I used to ride my bicycle to JFK airport and sit under one of the approach light towers a few hundred yards before the 13L threshold.  I'd sit there for hours with my radio watching the planes pass about a hundred feet over my head.  It was exciting!  I regularly kick myself for never getting into the ATC field.  Coulda, woulda, shoulda...

My daughter has expressed interest in ATC and I've been trying to gather some information myself about the best route for her to go.  Unfortunately, off-the-street would probably be the only way she could get into ATC but based on what you said, this doesn't look like it'll happen for years.  She's like you were...someone who doesn't quite yet know what she wants to do.

Thanks for all of that insight Smiley

Ron
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jermscentral
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« Reply #3 on: October 25, 2013, 11:12:39 AM »

One thing I forgot to mention -- unless you're a military transfer, there is an age cutoff of 31 to get into the profession. By the math, that gives the FAA a good 25 years of possible service time before you retire. We have a mandatory retirement age of 56 just to make sure we're still mentally capable of keeping up with everything (this is most important in busy facilities). You are eligible to retire after 20 years of good time at one facility; 25 years total; or the last day of the month of your 56th birthday.

Before anyone cries foul about retiring at 56, keep in mind we pay more in Social Security than non-ATC workers to allow for us to retire earlier. If you get into a management position that doesn't require you to remain operationally current (Air Traffic Manager, et al), then you can work past age 56, as you would not be working actual traffic.

If you do apply and are lucky enough to get a tentative offer letter, your age is "frozen" at however old you were when you got the letter. Since the hiring process can take a while, those that are "in" at 31 might be older when they actually get to the FAA Academy. Joining the military and doing ATC puts you in a different hiring category if you want to transition to the FAA, as you can then apply to any public/off-the-street announcements as well as VRA announcements. I don't know the rules of cross-linking to other forums, but StuckMic.com is a large ATC community that has posters from all walks of ATC life, including military and civilian controllers. There's a wealth of information there regarding the hiring processes for all types of new hires.
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