How to Become an Air Traffic Controller in San Diego

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San Diego International Airport is home to a large control tower, in which Federal Aviation Administration-employed air traffic controllers perform their duties. These professionals direct aircraft to and from parking areas, provide pilots with taxi and takeoff instructions and guide airplanes in to make landings or complete instrument approaches. To become air traffic controllers at San Diego International Airport, individuals must undergo extensive FAA-sponsored training and certification. You can complete this training by undergoing a college training program at an FAA-sponsored school or by applying to one of the FAA's "Public National" (PUBNAT) off-the-street hiring announcements.

Collegiate Training Initiative Route

Enroll in a Collegiate Training Initiative school. In these schools, students learn a variety of aspects related to air traffic control, including aviation regulations, pilot procedures, mathematics and flight meteorology. The nearest collegiate training initiative school to San Diego is Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California.

Complete the school's required courses and graduate from the CTI program. You can expect to finish a CTI program in about two to four years, depending on if you enroll in a university or community college.

Take the Air Traffic -- Standard Aptitude Test (AT-SAT). You must score at least 70 ("qualified") on the test to qualify for further hiring consideration. A score of 85 or above ("well qualified") gives you a much better chance of being hired.

Apply to an FAA Collegiate Training Initiative-hiring announcement. Under the "Geographic Preferences" tab, select "California" and in the comments box write "San Diego." After finishing the application, you will hear in four to 12 weeks if you get selected for further consideration.

Interview for the position at your nearest FAA air traffic control facility (it does not need to be San Diego). If you pass the interview, you will be sent a "Tentative Offer Letter," which authorizes you to continue the hiring process.

Complete an FAA health examination and psychological test at your nearest FAA control facility. Additionally, you will need to fill out a detailed U.S. government SF-86 security clearance form, in which you will have to write down detailed personal information, including all employment history, gaps in employment, residences for the preceding ten years and contacts from each of those residences.

Receive your "Final Offer Letter," which guarantees you a job as an air traffic controller in San Diego, contingent on passing FAA academy training.

Attend the FAA's air traffic control academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Because you graduated from a CTI program, you will need to spend only seven weeks in Oklahoma City, where you will learn the specifics of air traffic control, including intensive simulator work.

Pass the FAA air traffic control "Performance Valuation" test, in which you perform an air traffic exercise in a simulator. After passing the test, you graduate from the academy and may report to San Diego for on-the-job training.

Complete on-the-job training in San Diego. Typically, this training, also called facility training, takes around two years. After passing this training, the FAA will certify you as a full Certified Professional Controller at San Diego tower.

PUBNAT Route

Apply to a PUBNAT posting on the FAA's AVIATOR application website (see Resources). Mark down your personal information, as well as all relevant professional work experience, military and higher education.

Receive a "Geographic Preferences" e-mail from the FAA. Click the link to go to the FAA's location selection website. Choose "California" for the state and write down "San Diego" in the comments box. After completing the geographical preferences, you will hear in two to eight weeks if you get chosen for further consideration.

Interview for the position at your nearest FAA air traffic control facility (does not need to be San Diego). If you pass the interview, you will be sent a "Tentative Offer Letter," which authorizes you to continue the hiring process. Complete an FAA health examination and psychological test at your nearest FAA control facility. Additionally, you will need to fill out a detailed U.S. government SF-86 security clearance form, in which you will have to write down detailed personal information, including all employment history, gaps in employment, residences for the preceding ten years and contacts from each of those residences.

Receive your "Final Offer Letter," which guarantees you a job as an air traffic controller in San Diego, contingent on passing FAA academy training. Attend the FAA's air traffic control academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Because you did not attend a CTI program, you will need to spend 12 weeks in Oklahoma City, where you will learn the basics and specifics of air traffic control, including intensive simulator work.

Pass the FAA air traffic control "Performance Valuation" test, in which you perform an air traffic exercise in a simulator. After passing the test, you graduate from the academy and may report to San Diego for on-the-job training. Complete on-the-job training at San Diego. Typically, this training, also called facility training, takes around two years. After passing this training, the FAA will certify you as a full Certified Professional Controller at San Diego tower.

Tips & Warnings

  • Individuals with prior military air traffic control certification can also apply for FAA air traffic control positions under "Veterans Readjustment Appointment" announcements.

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