The ongoing shortage of air traffic controllers is swinging doors wide open for those seeking a career in this in-demand job. With the shortage hitting the New York area especially hard, this is an opportune time for those who are considering this career path—particularly for anyone who resides locally. Here’s why: Vaughn College, a leading aviation institution in Queens, adjacent to LaGuardia Airport, offers training that makes becoming an air traffic controller easier than you might expect. 

Why the need is so urgent

According to Pete Buttigieg, United States Secretary of Transportation, the United States is understaffed by about 3,000 air traffic control positions. Additionally, data revealed that 77 percent of critical air traffic control facilities, such as New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) and Miami Tower, are staffed below the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) required 85 percent—coming in at 54 percent and 66 percent, respectively. It is therefore no surprise that this critical shortage is leading—in part—to more flight delays and cancellations during the height of summer travel and well beyond. With an estimated 24,9000 air traffic controllers currently in place in the United States, the need is expected to grow to 6,800 over the next 10 years—factoring in the retirement of approximately 5,900 practicing air traffic controllers and the addition of 900 more. 

What does it take to become an air traffic controller?

As you might imagine, working as an air traffic controller can be intense. It requires the capacity to concentrate and multi-task in stressful situations as well as the ability to process a multitude of information quickly, among other critical responsibilities. And you may be surprised to learn about the specific requirements that are entailed. Let’s dive into these specifics.

Air traffic controller eligibility

Per the FAA, air traffic controllers (trainees without previous experience) must be 30 years old or younger before the closing date of the application period (with limited exceptions). Here is a list of the other mandatory requirements that applicants must meet to be considered eligible:

  • Be a United States citizen
  • Pass a medical examination
  • Pass a security investigation
  • Pass the FAA air traffic pre-employment test
  • Speak English clearly enough to be understood over communications equipment
  • Have three years of progressively responsible work experience, or a Bachelor’s degree, or a combination of post-secondary education and work experience that totals three years

It’s important to note that the 2023 application window is closed. The FAA only accepts applications once a year within a three-day period. Learn more about the FAA’s latest updates and information. 

Air traffic controller responsibilities and benefits 

There’s so much more to this job than meets the “eye in the sky.” In addition to coordinating and monitoring the movement of aircraft within safe distances—both in the air and on the ground, these specialized professionals must:

  • Control ground traffic at airport runways and taxiways.
  • Issue landing and takeoff instructions to pilots.
  • Transfer control of departing flights to other traffic control centers and accept control of arriving flights.

Benefits of working as an air traffic controller:

  • Potential to earn a six-figure salary after the first few years of service.
  • Consistent work schedule.
  • Scheduled breaks throughout your shift.
  • Mandatory retirement age at 56—with full federal benefits and pension.

Why Vaughn is your path to becoming an air traffic controller

Vaughn College partners with the FAA to offer the Air Traffic—Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI). The FAA hires approximately 50 percent of its candidates from the AT-CTI and the military. Additionally, AT-CTI candidates can bypass the biometric screening exam, which many do not pass. In addition, if you already have an associate degree or bachelor’s degree, Vaughn offers a fast-track degree program where you can complete your prerequisite courses for the FAA exams in a year and a half. Otherwise, it takes two-to-four years.

Looking for another reason to choose Vaughn’s air traffic control program? The College is one of only 33 schools nationwide that offers AT-CTI―and the only institution to do so in the northeast. When it comes to aviation, Vaughn has the history, experience, reputation and industry connections that will ensure students graduate with a successful career. 

Watch these recent CBS and WPIX 11 news segments on the air traffic controller shortage featuring Vaughn’s training program.  

What’s on your radar for the future? Be a part of the next generation of air traffic controllers. Apply today!

In episode 8 of Vaughn’s podcast, Futureproof Focus, Dr. Sharon B. DeVivo, president of Vaughn College and host of the podcast, sat down with Vaughn graduate Philip Bredu ’22 for an inspiring conversation about the value of internships, and how his passion for engineering and the sciences helped him land his current position as a test engineer at Georgia Power.

Coming to America

Born and raised in Ghana, Bredu and his brother moved to the United States to join their father, who was already living in New York at the time. At the age of 18, Bredu enrolled at Bronx Community College, where he started taking courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “Throughout my high school years in Ghana, I always gravitated toward math and physics,” he said. “It never scared me away. I knew it was something I could do.” Then Bredu received an email about a scholarship offered at Vaughn College. “I was intrigued about what I read and wanted to learn more about the College and its engineering programs.”

Excited about his future, Bredu knew that Vaughn would be the perfect place for him to pursue his dream. “I transferred to Vaughn and enrolled in the mechanical engineering program,” he said. “Being at Vaughn offered me the hands-on learning experience I wanted. From financial aid and career support to expert professors and incredible industry connections, landing my internship at Georgia Power was easy.”

The “power” of internships

Philip Bredu'22, Vaughn College mechanical engineering graduateBredu is the perfect example of how an internship can literally “power” your ability to land the job of your dreams. Bredu attended a career fair at Vaughn where he learned that he could use his engineering degree to work at a power company. Later, Vaughn sponsored a trip for him to attend the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) conference where he met with representatives from Georgia Power and received an internship opportunity. “I was invited to the hospitality suite at the conference where I met the supervisor at Georgia Power. After speaking with him for a short time, I was offered the internship!” Bredu said the experience was life changing as it helped him realize that working in the power industry was something he could do.

During the internship, Bredu valued the ability to work both in the office and in the field. “The hybrid schedule enabled me to learn so many different aspects of energy management. This is a dynamic career that will hold my interest for the long term.”

After the internship, Bredu was offered a permanent position at Georgia Power. In 2022, he graduated from Vaughn with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and was ready to start his career as a test engineer. “Moving to Georgia by myself and leaving my family was a challenging time for me,” he said. “It was a total lifestyle change from living in New York, but I’m adjusting. I love my job.”

A day in the life of a test engineer

“You never stop learning. This job teaches you the importance of being a good listener and asking questions.” When Dr. DeVivo asked him if he would recommend working in the power industry, Bredu responded with an enthusiastic, “yes!” “There’s always something new and exciting to learn about,” he explained. “Today’s customers are interested in solar, wind and sustainable energy. Working as a test engineer is a dream come true for me. It’s a diversified job that requires different skills. If you’re looking for a hands-on, intense and exciting career, becoming a test engineer is the job for you. You’ll never be bored.”

Engineering is an excellent field to get into because it offers a wide range of career opportunities across a variety of industries with stability and endless growth potential. What’s more is that new and emerging technologies are creating new roles in engineering every day. So check out Vaughn’s engineering and technology program and set your sights on an incredible future.

Check out all Vaughn’s podcast episodes.