Your Air Traffic Controller May No Longer Be Required to Have a High School Diploma

The FAA has considered itself to be highly budget-constrained for years, and in 1997 found a way to reduce its training costs — encouraging college air traffic control programs so that they could hire new controllers that were effectively already trained.

There’s a wait list of over 3000 air traffic control college graduates in line for FAA positions.

The FAA is killing off that wait list and, according to transportation researcher Bob Poole in the February Air Traffic Control Reform News will be announcing plans to ‘hire off the street’ with a requirement only of a high school degree or three years of work experience.

This is apparently a move driven by the FAA’s HR department to improve diversity.

But it would mean less qualified candidates, it would mean higher training costs, and it would mean that students who invested in degrees that had been encouraged by the FAA will find those investments devalued.

Air traffic control graduates will still be able to re-apply for these positions, of course, alongside folks without a high school diploma or specialized training.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “hire off the street”…”with 3 years of job experience”. So a basically illiterate 6th grade drop out, with 3 years experience flipping burgers at McD, is now considered equally qualified with a ATC college graduate.

    This will be good for the economy, since when planes crash and burn, airlines will need to buy new planes, increasing the GDP. That will produce more union jobs at Boeing too. So a good idea all around.

  2. Article states that before 1997 and creation of the CTI, this is how it was always done. Article also says that people are invited to “apply”, not that they’ll necessarily be granted jobs. Probably a little early to get worked up IMO. I doubt they plan on taking people directly from the deep fryer to the control tower without training.

  3. I think we should do the same for all jobs in the economy.

    College graduation getting more expensive?
    OK, no problem.
    You can apply for lawyer, judge, doctor, policeman, fireman, EMT, nuclear plant operator after 4 yrs of attending high school

    Get rid of all waitlists and encourage much more diversity

  4. UPDATE: the new requirements include 100 hrs of playing Microsoft Flight Simulator and/or addtl hours of Candy Crush Saga. A drug test will be required, but you may submit a waiver form 1077.75C if you reside in WA or CO.

  5. The new systems will also require all applicants, including sixth grade dropouts, pass the same exams and ATC skill cognitive tests that the college graduates do. Believe me college graduates are hit or miss in the ATC profession, every bit as much as the “off the street” hires are. The CTI program was a way for mostly corporate college programs to use the lure of a potentially lucrative career to incentivize kids to go in deep debt for the possibility (no guarantee) of said job.

  6. “Diversity” will be the death of western civilization. The only place it’s used. It’s really a racist idea. The soft bigotry of low expectations. They’re saying the only way to get minorities into the towers is to lower the bar to the ground. Sickening.

  7. As an air traffic controller at an enroute “Center,” I feel that I need to respond to your post. Your source blog is incorrect about experience qualification. To be considered, an applicant needs a Bachelor degree or 3 years of progressive work experience. Of the CTI schools out there, most all of them are a joke when it comes to preparing students. One or two schools properly prepare the students for Oklahoma City and the rest take your money and only teach a few things. My specialty area has seen 8 of the 9 trainees “wash out.” Most of those washouts spent lots of money to attend a CTI school. My facility has a 60% washout rate overall. By the way, the off the street air traffic control job opening starts tomorrow! This job is about aptitude and quick thinking.

  8. @justin

    I am a CTI grad that couldn’t pass the ATC medical, so I don’t actually work in the field. I started my CTI program in ’04 when there were only 13 schools, 3 of them being community colleges. I graduated in ’05.

    When I entered the CTI foray, I was already a college graduate, holding a BS in a technical field. I was also a certificated private pilot.

    Because I had to “check the box” so to speak, I wanted to find the cheapest and quickest CTI program out there. I did, and graduated with only having to complete 18 semester hours at a community college.

    And you know what? You’re absolutely right about the quality of education that CTI students get. It sucks. It’s been awhile so my memory is hazy, but of the six or so classes I had to take, only two or so actually had any real ATC related course work. I never did any radar or procedural work, and TBH, I’m not sure what the FAA was trying to achieve with the program I went through. With the academy backlog, you’re going to forget a lot of things if you haven’t done anything to “keep current” for a year.

    I don’t have a problem with the abolishment(?) of CTI programs. If my school was any indicator, its only purpose was to suck money out of students’ pockets. It did nothing to improve my education, or save the FAA and taxpayers any money.

    Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure how they market to students. No other occupation in this country requires a college degree to work for a single employer. IOW, name me another occupation that has only one employer. If things don’t work out, or they change their minds (as they’re apparently doing) you’re screwed. I didn’t go to college to get screwed, I don’t know why so many do.

  9. Really? “Less qualified candidates”? In some cases I could agree, but just because someone doesn’t have a HS diploma doesn’t mean they are unable to do a great job and may, in fact, be smarter than a HS graduate. My graduate school advisor has 2 PhDs, a Masters, a BA… and NO high school diploma or GED. He was bored and unmotivated so he left high school.

    I hear you saying, “but he’s got graduate degrees.” Okay, a friend doesn’t have her HS diploma or GED, but she runs a highly successful business in Kansas City. I would hardly say she suffered for lack of a piece of paper.

    Given the freshmen university students I used to teach, I’d almost say that I’d count a HS diploma AGAINST a person more than for them. I can’t tell you how many of my students couldn’t apply basic problem solving and critical thinking skills.. but hey.. they had that piece of paper so it’s all okay right?

  10. Diversity? Why not hire people who are qualified for the job instead of based on the color of their skin. It’s so simple.

    FWIW, I know plenty of college grads who are complete idiots so I wouldn’t say college is required as long as they’re qualified and can pass all the exams for the job.

  11. Yes, that’s what we need in ATC today – more diversity! Next up, let’s start handing out degrees in Neurosurgery to unqualified minorities in order to increase diversity in this field too. When uncle Bob has a stroke he can be treated by an illiterate guy with a bone in his nose and a rattle.

  12. I’m not sure what you actually meant by “useless reject sons” but I’m also quite sure that you are not a racist and just looking out for the future of ATC.

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