The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced in February that it is “working to accelerate its training and hiring of air traffic controllers through the development of an Enhanced Air Traffic Collegiate Initiative (AT-CTI) program,” in light of the ongoing workforce shortage. This latest action builds on the FAA’s current AT-CTI program to help offset the 2,500-person shortfall of air traffic controllers in the US.

The FAA expedites the pathway for AT-CTI school graduates

Beginning in April, current AT-CTI institutions (including Vaughn) can apply to join the Enhanced AT-CTI program. The FAA will then make its selections and sign partnership agreements with those institutions that agree to—and are able to—incorporate the new enhancements to the curriculum for the 2024-2025 school year. This enhanced program ensures that graduates have the necessary skills to begin on-the-job training. Additionally, this program will allow graduates to bypass the once-required 16-week FAA Academy training in Oklahoma City and receive their training at their respective AT-CTI college or university.

To bolster this initiative even further, the FAA has taken steps to ensure the training of the highest quality of graduating students by providing guidance on the criteria and coursework of the enhanced program. The FAA will oversee all program requirements to ensure the institutions are following all of the technology, testing, oversight and participation requirements of the Enhanced AT-CTI program. Graduates, however, are still required to pass the Air Traffic Skills Assessment (ATSA) exam as well as the necessary medical and security requirements outlined in this list of questions and answers.

According to the announcement in February, FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker stated: “Hiring more air traffic controllers is a priority. We need more entry points for controller candidates, and this enhanced college controller training program is an additional avenue to get controllers into facilities sooner.”

In addition to the changes to the AT-CTI program, the FAA noted the following efforts to make air traffic control training more accessible:

  • The announcement of a year-round hiring track for experienced controllers from the military and private industry.
  • The goal to fill every seat at the FAA Academy and increase classroom capacity beyond current limits.
  • Expanding the use of advanced training across the country. The agency has opened new facilities in Chicago, IL and San Diego, CA. Additional facilities in Nashua, NH and Phoenix, AZ will open in the spring.
  • Plans to finish the deployment of tower simulator systems in 95 facilities by December 2025. The FAA will deploy the first system—based in Austin, TX—by January 2024.
  • To strengthen our safety culture, reports from the Air Traffic Safety Oversight Service will be provided to the FAA administrator and Aviation Safety Associate administrator.

Why Vaughn is the best choice to become an air traffic controller

Is becoming an air traffic controller on your radar for the future? If so, this blog must have given you something to think about—not to mention motivation. As one of the original 13 institutions in the AT-CTI program, Vaughn is the premier choice for air traffic control training. Vaughn students qualify for air traffic controller jobs more quickly, thanks to the facilities, connections and experience offered to help them get certified. It is also worth noting that the FAA hires more of its candidates from AT-CTI institutions and the military. And air traffic controllers in the New York region are in particularly high demand, in part due to the fact that New York is a major travel hub.

Find out how Vaughn and the latest FAA expedited process could be your pathway to the control tower. Learn more about Vaughn’s air traffic control program and apply today!

By Dr. Sharon B. DeVivo, president and chief executive officer of Vaughn College

A ticket to the middle class and beyond is what a position as an air traffic controller can mean for a young person from an underresourced and underrepresented community. This resilient and diverse workforce is exactly what we need to solve the shortage of controllers in the U.S.

The recently reported need for more air traffic controllers has joined the workforce issues being experienced across the industry. The latest figures in a report issued by the FAA estimate that in the next 10 years, we will have 1,000 fewer fully certified controllers while we are only on track to gain fewer than 200—a net loss of 800. Estimates for the number of needed controllers in the next decade vary between 2,500 and 3,000. The issues in New York are particularly acute right now and have resulted in the limiting of flights, affecting airlines and passengers nationwide.

The current shortage, brought on by retirements and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on training, led the FAA in November to announce plans to explore the expansion of existing training partnerships, including its work with higher education partners in the Air Traffic-Collegiate Training Initiative (AT-CTI).

There are several pathways to pursuing a career in air traffic control, including attending one of the roughly 30 AT-CTI institutions nationwide, applying through a public announcement (typically done about once per year) or serving as a controller in the military first. By attending an AT-CTI institution and achieving a recommendation to the FAA, students can bypass the first six weeks of basic FAA training in Oklahoma City, where all current training takes place. After completing work there, more site-specific training is done (and can take two years or longer) at the assigned facility until that individual becomes a certified professional controller.

Vaughn College is one of the original 13 institutions chosen in 1997 as part of the AT-CTI partnership. The FAA told us at the time one reason it chose Vaughn was that our students wanted to return to New York. For some strange reason, people from other parts of the country were not as quick to move to our great state. Another advantage to working with Vaughn: the ethnic diversity of our students. About 80% of Vaughn’s students are first-generation college students and first-generation Americans.

Twenty-seven years later, the most complex airspace in the world—which includes the towers at the region’s major airports and the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control facility—is filled with Vaughn graduates from this valuable partnership. These positions offer great pay and benefits with mandatory retirement at 56. This is just one of the reasons that Vaughn is the best institution in the country at moving students from the bottom levels of income to the top, according to a study done by the Equality of Opportunity Project.

I recently chaired the Youth Access to Aviation Jobs in America Task Force (YIATF), a team appointed by the Transportation Department. Our group of industry representatives provided Congress and the FAA with 21 recommendations for how to meet the workforce needs of our industry. Our findings included models for building greater awareness, and we learned that providing information access is essential, especially in communities that do not have exposure to aviation. Unless you know someone already in the field, you tend not to understand what is possible. We suggested a one-stop-shop website to provide information, career paths and connections to local resources. Those local resources give students and families the means to learn more and pursue activities such as visits to camps, museums, aviation events and more that can ensure a career in aviation and aerospace.

Most important, the ability of industry, educators and the FAA to work together is critical to the transformation we seek in our workforce development pipeline. As the YIATF concluded: “What will ultimately make a difference will be our ability to collaborate [and] communicate and our commitment to attracting young people to this exciting, impactful and horizon-expanding industry.”

AT-CTI institutions are ready to help the FAA grow and diversify the workforce, providing a new generation of Americans with the lifechanging possibilities that air traffic control can offer. Aspiring candidates from across America can look forward to a promising career that can change the trajectory for them and their families.

Article originally published in Aviation Week on February 2, 2024.