Update April 24

For those wanting to know what to do now, you can go ahead and make a profile on USAJobs and create your resume using the resume builder tool (highly recommended). The job posting will be under series 2152 and titled “Air Traffic Control Specialist Trainee”, but you won’t see it until it goes live on May 5. Again, I’ll update this thread with a direct link to the application once it goes live to make it easy.

Keep sending questions my way. I’ll answer everyone eventually!

Update 2 April 22

I’m still answering all my DMs and any questions here. Same as always, I’ll keep updating this post over the next 2 weeks, and will have a direct link to the application posted here once it goes live. Feel free to keep engaging here, and I’ll also be posting updates over on r/ATC_Hiring

Update April 22

Just waking up, seeing a lot of questions now. I’ll start combing through and get back to everybody!

Also feel free to sub to r/ATC_Hiring . I made that sub a few years ago to be a place for people to keep in touch while going through the hiring process.


I’ve been doing AMA’s for these “off the street” hiring announcements since 2018. Since they always gain a lot of interest, I’m back for another one. I’ve heard back from hundreds of people (if not thousands at this point) over the past few years who saw my posts, applied, and are now air traffic controllers. Hopefully this post can reach someone else who might be looking for a cool job which happens to also pay really well.

Check out my previous AMAs for a ridiculous amount of info:






** This year the application window will open from May 5 - May 8 for all eligible U.S. citizens.**

Eligibility requirements are as follows:

  • Must be a U.S. citizen

  • Must be registered for Selective Service, if applicable (Required for males born after 12/31/1959) 

  • Must be age 30 or under on the closing date of the application period (with limited exceptions)

  • Must have either three years of general work experience or four years of education leading to a bachelor’s degree, or a combination of both

  • Must speak English clearly enough to be understood over communications equipment

- Be willing to relocate to an FAA facility based on agency staffing needs

START HERE to visit the FAA website and read up on the application process and timeline, training, pay, and more. Here you will also find detailed instructions on how to apply.


Let’s start with the difficult stuff:

The hiring process is incredibly arduous. After applying, you will have to wait for the FAA to process all applications, determine eligibility, and then reach out to you to schedule the AT-SA. This process typically takes a couple months. The AT-SA is essentially an air traffic aptitude test. The testing window usually lasts another couple months until everyone is tested. Your score will place you into one of several “bands”, the top of which being “Best Qualified.” I don’t have stats, but from my understanding the vast majority of offer letters go to those whose scores fall into that category.

If you receive and accept an offer letter (called a Tentative Offer Letter, or TOL) you will then have to pass medical and security clearance, including:

  • Drug testing

  • Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI2)

  • Class II medical exam

  • Fingerprinting

  • Federal background check

Once you clear the medical and security phase you will receive a Final Offer Letter (FOL) with instructions on when/where to attend the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, OK.

Depending on which track you are assigned (Terminal or En Route), you will be at the academy for 3-4 months (paid). You will have to pass your evaluations at the end in order to continue on to your facility. There is a 99% chance you will have to relocate. Your class will get a list of available facilities to choose from based solely on national staffing needs. If you fail your evaluations, your position will be terminated. Once at your facility, on the job training typically lasts anywhere from 1-3 years. You will receive substantial raises as you progress through training.

All that being said:

This is an incredibly rewarding career. The median pay for air traffic controllers in 2021 was $138,556 (I don’t have the number from 2022). We receive extremely competitive benefits and leave, and won’t work a day past 56 (mandatory retirement, with a pension). We also get 3 months of paid parental leave. Most controllers would tell you they can’t imagine doing anything else. Enjoying yourself at work is actively encouraged, as taking down time in between working traffic is paramount for safety. Understand that not all facilities are well-staffed and working conditions can vary greatly. But overall, it’s hard to find a controller who wouldn’t tell you this is the best job in the world.

Please ask away in the comments and/or my DMs. I always respond to everyone eventually. Good luck!

Comments: 1804 • Responses: 61  • Date: 

Jounas1217 karma

How do you understand what people are saying over those low audio quality radios with a lot of background noise? Does it sound as bad as it does on those website where you can listen in on ATC towers?

SierraBravo261714 karma

Oh no, the audio quality is infinitely better than what you hear on LiveATC

Jounas639 karma

Wow, thanks! It baffled me how someone could understand that without subtitles

SierraBravo26611 karma

Yeah that would be unbearable

homiedontplaytdat703 karma

Why the age requirement of under 30?

SierraBravo261100 karma

Mandatory retirement at age 56 is the best answer I have

formalcall672 karma

What are some reasons one wouldn't want to get into this career? Surely it's not 100% upsides.

SierraBravo261037 karma

Most likely will have to relocate, work weekends for the first 10-15 years of your career, and miss some holidays

DanTheMan_622759 karma

Wait, I already do two of those for like 1/3 of the pay. And I'm just under 30. Maybe I should apply...

SierraBravo26474 karma

Do it

ClaritinRabbit123 karma

Does having purchased weed in a recreational state bar you completely or would you just have to pass the drug test?

Edit to clarify: purchased weed from a dispensary

SierraBravo2642 karma

You’re fine, you just can’t be using it anymore.

09232022478 karma

About 10 years ago, I got rather deep into the hiring process. I got as far as the security clearance (which if I passed that, meant ATC school acceptance) before I realized that anyone who had ever sought care for mental health, even if it is not a mental illness, would receive and automatic DQ. I had received therapy for about six months a few years prior. I had heard from other applicants that I could just lie and it's likely that they won't check my insurance records and I'd be fine. But it's also a felony if you get caught and they want to make an example of you. I decided to withdraw my application.

I'm now disqualified from future hiring because I withdrew so late in the hiring process, but with the rise of mental health awareness in the country, along with the fact that many people seek therapy for things that aren't necessarily related to mental illness (mine was just mentally reconciling a break up), is seeking therapy still an automatic DQ within the FAA?

SierraBravo26426 karma

Absolutely not. There are even programs in place for employees to get up to 8 free therapy sessions per issue per year.

Being diagnosed is a whole other thing, but therapy alone is not a disqualifier.

09232022189 karma

I wish it was like that back then! I was so excited to join the FAA. My father, grandfather, and his father were all air traffic controllers and they were so proud when I passed the entrance exam. I think my father's heart was broken when I told him I withdrew.

But I never would have met my husband if I had gotten on that plane to Oklahoma, so there's that. Maybe in an alternate timeline I'm an air traffic controller making bank.

SierraBravo26115 karma

That is wild. It’s a shame that it didn’t work out for you for that reason, but you’ve certainly got a great perspective.

NavyJack231 karma

About how often do you give pilots a “number to call”?

SierraBravo26150 karma

Not often lol

insaneintheblain227 karma

What is your own educational and work background? What activities leading up to your now career do you find help you most in your day to day activities?

SierraBravo26301 karma

I graduated with an associate’s degree from a CTI program. Before that I was a baggage handler and had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. Discovered ATC at age 24 and pulled the trigger.

Not sure I understand the second part of your question.

insaneintheblain143 karma

For example before my professional career I was a waiter (who also had no idea what he wanted to do, haha) what I found carried across into my now career is my ability to multitask and a high capacity for putting up with bullshit.

SierraBravo26150 karma

Ah yes, similar things here. There also seem to be quite a few gamers in the profession.

WinnieThePig1 karma

Did you graduate from a CTI program before the CTI program got gutted because of affirmative action? I’ll never understand the reasoning behind those changes. It’s one of those jobs that you want quality over quantity.

SierraBravo265 karma

Graduated in 2013

WinnieThePig3 karma

Are you in a center? I graduated in 12 but went flying instead. Had a buddy get on in Washington center around the 2016 time frame I think.

SierraBravo265 karma

I was hired terminal but yeah I’m at a center now

One_Eyed_Sneasel199 karma

Just how difficult are these jobs?

I had a friend that went through the process and ended up having to relocate to Oklahoma and ended up washing out and moving back home because he said he just couldn’t do it.

SierraBravo26262 karma

It really is just one of those jobs where some people can do it and some people can’t. Once you certify, the day to day isn’t really all that difficult.

Sorry to hear about your friend.

Fun_Experience5951113 karma

Just hopping in this thread to let everyone know I was one of the people reading this thread roughly 4 years ago. I currently work at a level 5 up/down (tower and tracon) It's not a lot of money relative to other facilities, but it's more money than I've seen in my life, and it was 100% worth the hoops you jump through

I highly encourage anyone who has even a slight interest to apply, or if you're someone like me who doesnt have a clear goal or career in mind with what they want to do. This is the first time in my life I haven't had to worry about money. And I love my work (although I wish I was in a different part of the country but that's just air traffic for you)

If anyone has any questions for someone who relatively recently went through this process, you can also DM me

For sierrabravo, how many people have reached out to you to let you know they made it? Or went through the process because of you?

SierraBravo2636 karma

That’s awesome man, thank you so much for sharing! I’ve had hundreds of people keep in touch over the years who are now controllers, and I’ve personally met a few in person.

If you feel comfortable, feel free to DM me. I’d love to know what facility you’re at and get an idea of where you’re trying to go. I know NCEPT can be brutal these days.

imZ-1137014 karma

Are you in an outreach/recruiting type roll or program or is this really just something you put together for the good of mankind?

SierraBravo2644 karma

I’m a controller. I literally just do this on my own time.

imZ-1137010 karma

Very cool man, thank you for doing this. I’ve got a good career and past the cutoff age, but learning all of this was fascinating.

SierraBravo2610 karma

Absolutely man, thanks for the kind words

Sum_Dum_User110 karma

Why was I not told about this in high school in the 90's? In my 20s and 30s I rocked multitasking and could have been damn good at that job. Starting to slow down a bit in my 40s though. Way too late for me to apply. Bummer.

SierraBravo2644 karma

Yeah that’s unfortunate man

KernelFrog100 karma

Is it true that 'Pushing Tin' is a documentary?

SierraBravo26180 karma

Scene for scene exact recreation. Most people don’t know that John Cusack is an air traffic controller who just moonlights as an actor.

wallerc1594 karma

Do a lot of people apply? And if so what is the amount picked out of the total number of people?

SierraBravo2691 karma

Last year over 58,000 people applied, and I believe somewhere around 2,700 were hired.

Edited, thanks FAA 🤙

WinnieThePig21 karma

Do you stay up to date with the pass rate in OKC? Is that still under 60%?

SierraBravo2625 karma

I don’t know what the official number is today, but I’ve always heard it’s around that number.

CSKnowItNone94 karma

Are some airports more stressful than others? What types of airports do entry level ATCs start out at, and how often (if at all) do ATCs move to different airports?

SierraBravo26145 karma

Of course!

So there are multiple types of facilities, and not all controllers work at an airport. There are also en route centers, tower/Approach facilities, and standalone approaches. At it’s simplest form, once your flight departs, a departure controller in an approach facility (radar) gets you climbing and turning, and then center controllers work you across the country up at altitude. Then it’s all reversed as you get closer to your destination.

New hires get slotted for either tower or en route. If you get tower, you’ll end up at a mid—range facility out of the academy. Once you certify, you can try to transfer to another facility, where you’ll have to go through some more training to learn the local airspace, SOP, etc.

If you get hired for en route, you’ll go to one of the 21 centers once you graduate the academy. Those are all around major metropolitan areas.

bk15dcx91 karma

Sully probably could have avoided those birds, right?

SierraBravo26267 karma


squatwaddle86 karma

Is it as stressful as they claim? Are most days fine, but then when delays are factored in, it becomes intense?

SierraBravo26127 karma

As stressful as some might think? Probably not. You pretty much hit the nail on the head. Regular days are fine, weather and bad staffing can really suck.

nichecopywriter44 karma

I’m not sure I could live my life if eventful weather directly caused my job to be more stressful. One of my favorite joys is big storms, the cognitive dissonance would be painful

SierraBravo2650 karma

You’ll hear a lot that controllers would rather have it storm on their days off than while they’re working

kittykata2755 karma

Hi! I'm Australian so technically this doesn't imapact me, however if someone had ADHD or something similar would they be barred from acceptance?

SierraBravo2688 karma

With an official diagnosis, yes

Gingerchaun52 karma

As a Canadian pot head.

Do you guys ever interact with air traffic controllers from other countries directly?

And do other countries(canada) also pay really well for air traffic controllers?

SierraBravo2689 karma

Our controllers who work the boundary airspace with Canada do.

And yes, Canada pays their controllers well. Although their system is run by the private sector, whereas in the United States we work for the federal government.

insaneintheblain22 karma

Do you get to mess around on comms occasionally?

SierraBravo2663 karma

Friendly banter with pilots.

Not on guard.

TheDrMonocle39 karma


SierraBravo2661 karma

Stop it

gogojack46 karma

and won’t work a day past 56 (mandatory retirement, with a pension).

Well, shit. I'm 57. I have a rewarding (if sometimes stressful) job already, but...

Anyway, a question...how do they determine that's the cutoff? If a person was in good physical and mental shape and had started the career later in life, why check out at 56? Seems a bit arbitrary.

SierraBravo2616 karma

That’s a good question. Not sure where that number came from.

aliendividedbyzero42 karma

I'm an engineering student, not interested in becoming ATC (though perhaps someday a pilot). I love aviation, though, and I was wondering: do you recommend any particular ATC simulators for people like me who just want to have some fun during our downtime? It need not be super intricate, and ideally it should be free or low-cost to play. I've been obsessed with atc-sim, to give you an idea, and am looking for a bit of variety.

Also, wanted to say that I really appreciate the work you and other ATCs do to keep us travelers safe. Thank you for your service!

SierraBravo2618 karma

I’ve never heard of that sim, but I just checked out your link and that looks pretty good!

DinoDinossaur39 karma

would you say it's a fun job (or with moments of fun)? if not, which moments of the job are the worst?

SierraBravo26108 karma

Definitely a fun job. Most days don’t feel like work.

I think the consensus worst part about the job is the sleep schedule. We work rotating shift work at most facilities, and work weekends and holidays.

slaughtamonsta35 karma

As a non traffic controller it's exactly like the movie 2:22 where you can tell a plane to "punch it" and cross the path of another landing plane and it's safe.

What that movie is 100% realistic

SierraBravo2669 karma

Don’t forget all the numbers that you see swirling around your head as you do on the spot calculus

belunos18 karma

Where are you working out of? My father in law worked out of nashville for his last twenty years, and he was always tense. First few years in retirement, he was looking up and naming planes and approaches. Most def seemed like work, especially with the turn-around shifts. It doesn't feel like you're being honest with how stressful this job can be.

SierraBravo2610 karma

I’ve been in 7 years and have been fortunate enough to be at a couple facilities with good staffing. I’m at a center now so sure, it’s a little different. I can only speak for myself, but I know there are controllers at facilities with much worse staffing who have a different experience. Hopefully that can change soon.

Domination_33 karma

Is the AT-SA something you study for or is it more like a baseline for how you might do? Also what is the personality inventory like,just making sure you’re mentally sound for the job?

SierraBravo2629 karma

There are study materials online that you can pay for. I can’t vouch for any, but I think there’s like a $10 one that I’ve heard is pretty good.

And yeah, basically.

sleeper_5432 karma

I have thought this job is extremely stressful and deleterious to one's mental and physical health. (Understand I can remember Reagan firing air traffic controllers in the 80s.)

Or are these 'old conditions' which have been ameliorated over the years..??

SierraBravo2619 karma

Some of the conditions remain (poor staffing), but the current contract is much more controller-friendly


I saw you mentioned it’s rotating shifts in a previous comment. How long is each shift? Thanks for doing this!

SierraBravo2627 karma

8 hours, and absolutely!

turn20left18 karma

Bruh you know we're all doing six 10 hour shifts.

SierraBravo2612 karma

Is that why you need 20 left?

OprahsAfro25 karma


SierraBravo2651 karma

TCAS would have saved them

Transplanted_Cactus14 karma

Why do you need to be 30 or under? This stipulation makes no sense to me. With age generally comes work and life experience, which seems like it would be a positive for such an important job.

SierraBravo2638 karma

Yeah that’s a common question. My best understanding of it is that it has to do with our mandatory retirement age of 56.

ElChidro8 karma

Have you ever set off the snitch?

SierraBravo268 karma

You’re not trying if you don’t

ichoosechalamander6 karma

What are the limited exceptions for the people over 30? I couldnt find anything on the links provided, unless i missed it

SierraBravo2614 karma

The only ones I’m aware of are for those with prior-military ATC

MechEngineeringGod6 karma

My son is in ATC in the Marines can he transfer to FAA after the age of 30? He is also looking at DOD airfields.

SierraBravo267 karma


Large-Jackfruit63295 karma

Have you heard of people developing tinnitus from being around the radar after ~20 years? It's supposed to be a special kind of tinnitus, one with a personality. If that makes sense

SierraBravo2630 karma

Most on-the-job hearing loss comes from coming back from break and plugging in after someone who had their volume at full blast

Islanduniverse3 karma

30 or under… why the age limit? I’m 37 and hate my job and make no money and would love a change, but I’m too fucking old for everything. And I have three college degrees, ha!

Love how life works out sometimes.

SierraBravo268 karma

I’m really sorry man. Best I know is that it’s because of our mandatory retirement age if 56.

Islanduniverse4 karma

Lol, that would be great too.

Oh well, back to grading papers!

SierraBravo262 karma

What grade?

Waffuru1 karma

Wow, 30? My Mom did this back in the 80's, but when she joined, I think she was 39. She was just barely young enough. Did they change the age or was it a different age between the regular air traffic controllers and the ones that did the weather and flight plans?

SierraBravo261 karma

Your mom might have done flight data. Does that sound familiar?

cutelyaware1 karma

I've long assumed it was a great and particularly satisfying career, but given the gigantic leaps in capability of AI in the last month alone makes me think the job is in danger of disappearing at any point, and definitely will at some point. Is this even a discussion in your circles, and what are people saying about it?

SierraBravo268 karma

No, that’s not something I’m worried about.