Air Traffic Controllers are the people who coordinate the safe takeoffs, transits and landings of aircraft at Canadian airports. The challenge is that there are many aircraft in motion at the same time.
Like a traffic cop, an Air Traffic Controller has to know where all of the aircraft in their area of responsibility are on a real-time basis, and safely manage this traffic to avoid collisions and near-misses. Unlike a traffic cop, an Air Traffic Controller is aided in their work by radar and advanced flight data management systems.
In Canada, all air traffic educators are trained and – if successful – hired by NAV CANADA, the company responsible for managing Canada’s national air navigation service.
There are four Air Traffic Controller positions at NAV CANADA:
- Tower Controller – managing traffic at a specific airport
- Area Controller – managing flights between airports
- Flight Service Specialist (AAS) – providing timely, essential information to arriving and departing aircraft
- Flight Service Specialist (FIC) – providing flight-planning services, deliver in-depth interpretive weather information and en-route flight information to aircraft operating in Canadian airspace
Successful applicants will be posted by NAV CANADA as required across Canada, and moved periodically on the same basis. These postings are usually done within the one of seven regions where the Air Traffic Controller was trained by NAV CANADA.
Qualities of successful Air Traffic Controllers include strong emotional control and maturity, the ability to solve problems under pressure while staying calm, personal accountability and the ability to learn from constructive criticism, and a diligent attitude to studying and work.
How to Learn
In order to apply to NAV CANADA, applicants require a high school diploma (or equivalent) and be at least 18 years of age. They must also be Canadian citizens or permanent residents, pass a medical examination and background security check, be available for training in the next 18 months, and be willing to relocate. (More details on NAV CANADA’s Training website.)
The place to start is NAV CANADA’s Careers website. Initial applicants must fill out an online questionnaire and write a short essay to explain why they want to pursue a career in air traffic control. After registration, they must take an online test so that NAV CANADA can assess their cognitive skills.
From here, successful applicants will have in-person assessments, which NAV CANADA conducts 1-2 times a year. The session lasts approximately four hours and includes a paper-based simulation. Other components of the tests will evaluate the applicant on thinking and reasoning, communication, attention, information processing, memory and knowledge.
Successful applicants will then be more broadly interviewed by phone, and those who pass this stage will have in-person meetings with the NAV CANADA training manager in their area of specialty.
Once an applicant has completed all of the steps, they will enter the candidate pool. If selected for training, the candidate will be sent a web-based training program that they will be expected to know inside-out prior to entering the classroom. Successful applicants who are chosen for training will be paid students allowances.
NAV CANADA’s training centres are located in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Moncton and Gander.
People who successfully pass all of NAV CANADA’s training regime, including on the job training have a good likelihood of ongoing employment with the company.
NAV CANADA trainees get paid. For instance, a Tower Controller trainee is paid $44,000 to cover 5-6 months of Phase 1 Classroom and Simulator training, followed by another $44,000 for 5-12 months of Phase 2 On The Job training.
According to NAV CANADA, the salary ranges for all four positions are as follows:
- Tower Controller: $75,000 to $142000
- Area Controller: $103,000 to 151,000
- Flight Service Specialist (AAS) : $60,000 to $93,000
- Flight Service Specialist (FIC): $72,000 to $90,000
In addition to regular salaries, NAV CANADA pays its employees premiums and bonuses related to duties as an on-the-job instructor, working at sites that offer air traffic services in both official languages, taking on supervisory duties, location premiums, as well as evening and weekend and holiday shift premiums.