California Occupational Guides

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Summary Guide for

Air Traffic Controllers in California

May also be called: Air Traffic Control Specialists, Air Traffic Controllers (Enroute Option), Air Traffic Controllers (Tower Option), Certified Professional Controllers

Specialties within this occupation include: Airport Tower or Terminal Controllers; En Route Controllers; Flight Service Specialists

What Would I Do?

Air Traffic Controllers are responsible for 200,000 aircraft each day. They direct air traffic flow according to established procedures that ensure flight safety. They authorize, regulate, and control commercial airline flights following federal government regulations.

Airport Tower or Terminal Controllers almost always work in small rooms at the top of airport towers. Airport towers, en route centers, and flight service stations are usually fully air-conditioned. Rooms in flight centers are large and dimly lit for proper viewing of the many radar screens arranged in tiers and rows.

Air Traffic Controllers usually work a standard 40-hour week, but may work some overtime.

Will This Job Fit Me?

This occupation may appeal to those who like to follow set procedures and routines. Often, the job involves working more with data and details than ideas.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Air Traffic Controllers earn relatively high pay and have better job security than most workers, as long as they meet the proficiency and medical requirements of the job. Although their workloads decrease during economic downturns, they are rarely laid off.

The median wage in 2021 for Air Traffic Controllers in California was $156,916 annually, or $75.44 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

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Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2021 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
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Depending on length of service, Air Traffic Controllers receive 13 to 26 days of vacation and 13 days of sick leave each year, in addition to life insurance and health benefits. Controllers can also retire at an earlier age and with fewer years of service than other Federal employees. However, federal law provides exemptions for Controllers having exceptional skills and experience. Earnings and benefits for Controllers working in contract towers or flight service stations may vary.

What is the Job Outlook?

Overall employment of Air Traffic Controllers is expected to decline slowly. However, large numbers of Air Traffic Controllers will be eligible to retire over the next decade, potentially creating many job openings.

How Do I Qualify?

Air Traffic Controllers are required to have three years of general experience, four years of college, or a combination of experience and education. The FAA has established a maximum age of 30 at the time of appointment for tower and center candidates. Applicants must be a U.S. citizen.

Finding a Job

Most civilian Controllers work for the FAA; however, some work for the DOD. Candidates can search job openings and apply online through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management Web site at Job seekers should view the Air Traffic Controller Announcement, the Qualifications Information Statement for Air Traffic Control Specialist Positions, and a list of test locations.

The Western Regional Headquarters of the FAA is located in Los Angeles and is responsible for coordinating all military and civilian air traffic in California, Nevada, and Arizona. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Learn More About Air Traffic Controllers