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Air traffic controllers work for the Federal Aviation Administration and, as such, enjoy access to federal pay scales and federal benefits. While entry level pay for air traffic controllers, as of September 2013, is relatively low, the value of the benefits are significant. In addition, wages climb for air traffic controllers. As of the May 2012 Occupational Employment and Wages study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a median-earning air traffic controller took home $122,530.
A member of the general public with no training or a college graduate of an air traffic control course enters the FAA's academy at a base pay of $17,803. Once the recruit finishes training, the pay automatically gets bumped up to $37,070. Controllers with military or current Federal experience start at the $37,070 wage. Air traffic controller wages also continue to increase as the controller's experience grows. It can take two to four years to complete the on-the-job training process.
Additional Training Compensation
While the training salary is relatively low, the FAA offers additional pay during the initial training period, which can be a few weeks or a few months. While you're in training, you get a $79.20 daily reimbursement for meals, lodging and incidentals. The FAA will also pay to transport you to and from the academy in Oklahoma City.
The government adjusts the salary you receive based on where you end up working. As such, you may actually make more than $37,070 as an entry level air traffic controller. If you end up in the Boston area, you'll get an extra 24.8 percent in locality pay. Serving in Columbus, OH gives you an extra 17.16 percent, while getting sent to the San Francisco Bay Area increases your pay by 35.15 percent. In other words, depending on whether you're in Columbus or San Francisco, your $37,070 position could actually pay you $43,431 or $50,100.
As a federal employee, you also get access to the full range of federal benefits. You get to choose from multiple health plans, seven dental plans and three vision plans. You can also set up a flexible spending account, benefit from discounted life insurance and even purchase long term care insurance. You also get generous annual and sick leave, and access to a federal pension and the Thrift Savings Plan.
2016 Salary Information for Air Traffic Controllers
Air traffic controllers earned a median annual salary of $122,410 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, air traffic controllers earned a 25th percentile salary of $84,730, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $149,230, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 24,900 people were employed in the U.S. as air traffic controllers.
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- BLS.gov: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 - 53-2021 Air Traffic Controllers
- Federal Aviation Administration: Pay, Benefits, and Training
- BLS.gov: Occupational Outlook Handbook - Air Traffic Controllers - How to Become an Air Traffic Controller
- OPM.gov: Salary Table 2013-GS
- OPM.gov: New / Prospective Employees
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Air Traffic Controllers
- Career Trend: Air Traffic Controllers
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images