Air traffic controller : all about this job

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In the aeronautical world, the best-known professions are generally the most visible: the flight crew, whether they are pilots, captains or stewards. But there is one job without which no aircraft could land or take off. This is the air traffic controller, a real guardian angel for passengers. How to become an air traffic controller? What training do you need? What is the salary for this job? Find out everything you need to know about becoming an air traffic controller.



What is an air traffic controller ?


An air traffic controller, as the name suggests, controls and manages airspace traffic and all air movements at an airport from his control tower. As guarantor of good air traffic, his missions are :

  • to manage and monitor the trajectories of aircraft
  • monitor the airspace to avoid collisions between aircraft and helicopters
  • give slots and authorisations for take-off and landing
  • provide information on weather conditions
  • provide guidance, through radar guidance.


It is the link between the air and the ground and interacts with the pilot throughout the flight (from take-off to landing). As a true air traffic controller, he can communicate with the flight crew by radio. The air traffic controller issues flight permits for the area he controls.

As a true guarantor of safety and the fluidity of air traffic, this air traffic control engineer leaves no room for error. He or she must have a good tolerance for stress. Indeed, every decision taken can endanger the lives of hundreds of passengers. He or she works with a colleague in a time zone, as the tower is always in operation.


There are two types of air traffic controllers: civil and military.



What is the training to become an air traffic controller ?


The conditions of admission to the competition :


To become an air traffic controller in the civil service, it is necessary to pass the entrance exam for the INAC (air traffic control engineer). This competition is prepared after a baccalaureate during 2 years, either thanks to a preparatory class, or a BTS or a L2.

Admission to the competition is very selective, with only a hundred or so places available each year. You have to be 26 years old or less in the year of the competition and have language skills, especially in English. It is only possible to retake the exam three times.


The training :

The initial training of an air traffic control engineer (ICNA) lasts three years and takes place in Toulouse at ENAC (École Nationale d’Aviation Civile).

This training is both theoretical and practical. In addition to theory and practice, the training includes

  • an 18-month internship
  • training for a private pilot’s licence
  • an 8-week stay in an English-speaking country
  • an internship in an airline company.


The student is paid throughout the course.

The course leads to a Master in Air Traffic Management and Control (MCTA). Once the ICNA training is completed, the student will join the DGAC (Direction de l’Aviation Civile) and will ensure the smooth flow of traffic in the French sky from a control centre.



What is the salary of an air traffic controller ?


Salary of a civil air traffic controller :

The total monthly income of an air traffic controller at the beginning of his or her career is approximately €4,916.


Salary of an air traffic controller in the Army :

The average monthly salary of an air traffic controller for the air force is :

1,329 net for a non-commissioned officer
1,471 net for a sergeant
1,763 after 10 years of service



When the air traffic controller is subject to external operations, the remuneration is multiplied by 2.5. Allowances may be added to this basic salary depending on the family situation and location.


What is the career development of an air traffic controller ?

Career development in civilian life :

Through the internal selection process, air traffic controllers can move into research, supervision or management of civil aviation services (depending on seniority).


Career development in the military :

In the military, the possibility of career development is through ranks. At each rank, responsibilities and remuneration change.


The air traffic controller is a necessary milestone for the smooth running of air traffic. Passionate, demanding and rigorous, the training of air traffic controllers makes them true guardian angels. It is to them that passengers owe their safety and the smooth running of their journey.