• The FAA has successfully hired 1,500 new air traffic controllers, meeting its hiring goal for this year ahead of schedule.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a high demand for air traffic controllers as air travel began to return to normal.
  • The FAA plans to continue hiring and training controllers, with a goal of hiring 1,800 controllers in the upcoming year if funding is received.

The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) announced on August 24 that it has reached its hiring goals for this year. The association had set out to hire 1,500 new air traffic controllers before 2023 was over and completed this goal before September arrived.

Hiring goal

The FAA has been struggling for air traffic controllers to fill its demand since the COVID-19 pandemic slowed and air travel began to return to normal. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the FAA being forced to close its air traffic controller academy. The academy was closed for six months in 2020, and most on-the-job training facilities were shut down for two years. This led to an increased demand for controllers as air travel picked back up.

While the pandemic was still occurring, the FAA announced it had a goal of hiring 4,300 new air traffic controllers by the end of 2026. Then, at the beginning of last year, the FAA announced it would begin a hiring push in order to meet its demand for controllers.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport ATC tower.
Photo: Tim Roberts Photography | Shutterstock

However, on Thursday, August 24, the FAA announced it was on pace to meet its goal over the next several years. The hiring of 1,500 new air traffic controllers has met the association's goal for the year.

The new hiring has also allowed the FAA to continue building its training pipeline. The FAA also announced that it currently has approximately 2,600 controllers being trained at various facilities across the country. Many of the controllers mentioned are already certified to begin work as official air traffic controllers, but instead are training others.

The Chief Operating Officer of the FAA's Air Traffic Organization, Tim Arel, spoke about the recent hiring. He stated,

"This is an important milestone as we come out of the pandemic, but there is more work to do. We plan to hire 1,800 controllers in the upcoming year provided we receive the funding."

The President of the United States, Joe Biden, currently has a set budget for 2024. This budget requests funding for the FAA to hire an additional 1,800 air traffic controllers over the course of the year.

Becoming an air traffic controller

Air traffic controllers are direct employees of the FAA. Currently, the controllers have duties that include controlling air traffic through airports, giving pilots taxing and takeoff instructions, and receiving aircraft coming into the airspace that is under their control. Air traffic controllers are also responsible for giving pilots advice about active flight conditions while they are en route to the controlled airport and also giving pilots advice on spacing between various aircraft.

Many American Airlines aircraft parked at an airport.
Photo: American Airlines

Because of the extensive duties, becoming an air traffic controller demands a lot of training. Controllers in training begin their journey at the FAA academy in Oklahoma City. The academy training can last anywhere between 3–5 months. The graduates are then moved to a specific airspace position across the United States. The FAA has facilities in every state and territory, including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam. Controllers train on the given airspace and must be prepared to be relocated to any FAA facility. Certification for a specific airspace can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months depending on how complex and busy the airspace is.