Air Traffic Control Salary Part 2

Due to the massive demand I have decided to do a more detailed post on just how much you can earn as an Air Traffic Controller. In my previous post on ATC salaries I wasn't very specific and just gave a broad range.

The salaries you will see here are exact values as of 1st July 2007. I just want to clarify that the base salaries I am about to give you are for Australian Air Traffic Controllers in the tower stream. Enroute or TMA controllers salaries may vary but not by much.

Any persons wishing to publish these figures, please provide a link back to this blog!

Trainee College - $34,710
Trainee Field - $52,066
Level 1 - $70,658
Level 2 - $78,945
Level 3 - $87,232
Level 4 - $95,518
Level 5 - $99,818
Level 6 - $104,117
Level 7 - $108,417
Level 8 - $113,683
Level 9 - $117,014
Level 10 - $121,314
Level 11 - $125,009
Level 12 - $128,705
Level 13 - $132,331
Sydney 1 - $138,627
Sydney 2 - $142,517

Team Leaders/Supervisors: Applicable Salary plus 10% loading
Tower Managers: Applicable Salary plus 10% loading plus representative allowance.

The two Sydney levels are additional levels available to Sydney controllers as these were negotiated back in the 80's for Sim Ops. and I have no idea how much the representative allowance is for Tower Managers.

Another thing to note is that you do get paid for over time. Unlike a lot of other occupations where you are on a set salary and any extra time isn't accounted for, with ATC if you do extra hours you get extra pay. And at great rates! I once heard an enroute controller added close to 50k on top of his base salary in "additional duties". The enroute sector is so short staffed it's really no surprise.

Pilot Calls Mayday

Thursday morning a CT4 lost all oil pressure on upwind and called mayday. Luckily the conditions were such that the pilot was able to make a tear drop turn back to the runway and land safely. If the runway was occupied or another aircraft was becoming airborne it could have been messy.

We also often get strong winds at the aerodrome well in excess of 20 knots. Thursday the wind was straight across the runway and a light 5 knots so there was no downwind for the turn back. If it had been like it was a couple of weeks ago, 25 knots straight down the runway he may not have made it.

There are a few plenty of other options though, just in this case the simplest option was the turn back to the runway. As an Air Traffic Controller this is the perfect example of making a decision in a split second, and it's a life and death situation.

It wasn't me controlling, I was rostered off. So let's breakdown what went through my colleagues mind in that half a second or so.

In this case the pilot advised he was making a turn back to the runway. This can have positive and/or negative effects depending on the circumstances. In this case it was all positive.

  • The controller knew exactly what the pilots intentions were. A mayday can often cause confusion for a controller. Because the pilot may fear for his/her life (and this is fair enough), he/she may make a decision to deal with the situation that is in total disregard for what is happening in the airspace around them. Communication with the pilot is also limited at this point in time so you can be left guessing what they are going to do and move everyone else out of the way.
  • There was no confliction with other traffic.
  • There was no excessive downwind component on the opposite runway.
  • It was probably the best option.
So by the pilot making the decision to conduct the tear drop turn it took a lot of the load off the controller. All he had to do was:
  • Assess that no collision risk existed with other aircraft
  • Assess the downwind component on the runway.
In light traffic this is quite simple, in heavy traffic it could prove to be a nightmare. And this is where we lead into the negative impact of the pilot making his decision. The circuit area at the aerodrome is usually a busy place with 8-9 aircraft not uncommon. If this had been the case and the pilot conducted this manoeuvre it would almost be a guarantee that two aircraft would end up nose to nose and the controller would be earning his money to solve the problem!

So what were the various options? My knee jerk reaction would have been a left turn for a landing on the crosswind runway. It solves any confliction with other aircraft becoming airborne and negates any downwind component that may have been present on the opposite runway. Another option would have been a base leg for the parallel runway, the third option the one that took place.

Anyway, the whole fleet was grounded on Friday so I had a nice relaxing day at work!

Any pilots reading this feel free to add your comments to this post. It's always interesting to know what goes on through your head when your engine is about to seize. In my training we were always taught that a pilot flies the plane first. This is true for the above situation and TCAS alerts are another good example.

I worked with a controller at my last posting who was also a pilot. He once told me a story that I found quite funny.

You often hear stories of engine failures and pilots positioning the aircraft so that no one on the ground was in danger for a forced landing. This guy had an engine failure once in a C172 and there just happened to be a football oval nearby for his landing. The only problem was it was full of football players! Fearing for his life he totally ignored the fact that there were people everywhere and steered straight for the football field!

Some people may call it cowardly, I call it self preservation!

One Week Of Training - Procedural Approach

(Above: Australian FIR)

It's been well over a week since my last post on how to be an Air Traffic Controller. This has been due to the fact that I was in the process of doing a week of training on ADC1 - Procedural Approach.

My official training won't commence until January next year as I am number two in line for training at that position. As an Air Traffic Controller you may often receive additional training prior to commencing your official training date.

The reason for this is because your training is set to a specified time limit (in this case 16 weeks) and it isn't ideal to spend the first 4-6 weeks of that 16 weeks learning things like phraseology's. For those that don't know what that is, phraseology is basically set phrases Air Traffic Controllers use to pass instructions. Pilots then also have their own set of standard phraseology's that they would reply with.

When I meet someone and they ask what I do for a living, usually the first response is something along the lines of "Oh, yeah. So you're the guy that waves the bats around on the ground". I then correct them which is followed by "Oh...that must be stressful". I have had this exact conversation countless times, so has every Air Traffic Controller I have met.

For the Air Traffic Controllers of tomorrow I'd like you to know that 95% of the time the job isn't all that stressful. We spend all our working days doing the job and seeing certain scenarios come up, that it eventually becomes like second nature. At times it can get really busy and the pressure can build up, but it is something you become accustomed to.

Something that I never get used to is Training. And it doesn't matter how you package it up and make it all nice, training in my opinion is bloody stressful. And for a number of reasons.

  1. It's new - Like I said in above, "it eventually becomes like second nature". When you are training for a new position you are seeing and doing things that you have never done before. New scenarios, new solutions. Add complex phraseology's to this mix and you have a cocktail for information overload. You thought you experienced an information overload in your studies? Ha, you haven't experienced anything until you have that much going on in your head that you can't even speak properly.
  2. Time Restrictions - Every training officer will tell you not to stress about this point. They'll say "We've all been where you are" and it's supposed to make you feel better. I guess it does in a way, knowing that the guy who knows everything about the job, once upon a time struggled like you are right now and then eventually overcame that. The reality for me is that I know that I have until a certain date to get this right and If I don't I may be speaking to my manager and telling him why I deserve to keep my job!
  3. Long Hours - After what feels like a long day at work, you go home to do study in your own time and learn what you didn't know today for tomorrow.
There are good points however!
  1. It's not your licence! When you are training, your training officer is ultimately responsible for what happens in your airspace. If you do something wrong, you have your training officer their to pick up the pieces for you!
  2. It won't go on forever - Your training period only lasts for a few months, if not less. Within a matter of a couple of months you will be back within your comfort zone and it will all be over!
I'm so glad last week is over. Until next time. Next post Ill do a little write up on Procedural Approach and what it is all about.

Who Wants To Be An Air Traffic Controller?

My last post I spoke about Air Traffic Controller's Salaries. It appears a lot of people search that topic in search engines for some reason so I thought I'd satisfy their curiosity.

Even more people search about what it's like to be an Air Traffic Controller and how to be an Air Traffic Controller. If this is you then definitely read on because that's what this post is all about.

(Above: Australian ATC Locations.)

So how demanding is the job of Air Traffic Control? According to Airservices Australia "The nature of the job demands that Air Traffic Controllers be able to make quick and accurate decisions based on information regarding an aircraft's position". To this end you must:
  • be confident and able to work with modern computer-based equipment;
  • be self-motivated and independent, yet work within a team environment;
  • be dedicated, professional, conscientious, confident and able to accept high levels of personal responsibility;
  • possess a good understanding and a clear application of the English language; and
  • be prepared to work shifts on any day of the year.
Yes any time of the year. It was only two Christmas's ago I was lucky enough to be on holidays and flew home Christmas day.

What are the different types of Air Traffic Control?
  • Enroute Controllers are responsible for the safe management of air traffic over the majority of the Australian mainland and on oceanic routes. Enroute control services are delivered from our two major centres in Brisbane and Melbourne.
  • Terminal Area Controllers use radar to manage the orderly flow of aircraft arriving and departing from major city airports. Terminal Area Control services are provided from the Brisbane and Melbourne Centres and Terminal Control Unit’s in Cairns, Sydney, Adelaide or Perth.
  • Tower Controllers work in the control tower at an aerodrome where they are responsible for all aircraft and vehicle movements on the taxi ways, runways and in the immediate vicinity of the aerodrome. Airservices Australia operates 26 control towers around Australia.
You can click the links below to view PDF documents on applications, assessment tests and interviews, training and postings. Visit here to apply. Applications for previously trained and rated Air Traffic Controllers and/or applicants with no previous experience never close.

Air Traffic Controller's Salary

Received great news yesterday. My wife is 4 weeks pregnant! This is our first child so its very exciting. We printed out a table showing different stages of the pregnancy and what to expect and made an appointment to see a doctor in a few weeks for the first ultrasound. I've got mates coming to visit in a few weeks so now we have a designated driver! haha. Sounds terrible I know but it's something we joke about.

(Picture above: ATC Workstation, TAAATS Display)

I'd like to talk about Air Traffic Controller's salaries. I use a counter for my web pages to log visitors information. For those of you who are looking for a good counter go to it's great. I get information on visitors location, how they got to my pages, how long they stayed, and many other useful tools including search queries from search engines like Google. Tonight while I was browsing through the visitors activity I noticed one interesting query a visitor from Australia entered into Google. "How much do Air Traffic Controllers get a year?" That a good question and ill be happy to answer it for you.

ATC salary can be broken up into three basic categories.

  1. ATC Trainee College Salary

  2. ATC Field Training Salary

  3. ATC Salary

Obviously this salary changes every year as it is a natural process for a salary to increase with time due to things like inflation. I can't give an exact dollar amount but pretty close to it give or take a couple thousand. (I could give an exact amount but I'd have to source that information from work, I'm not at work and it's probably not that important.)

1. ATC Trainee College Salary - Yes you get paid while you study! When I went through the college in 2004 the college salary was approximately $32,000 a year. We have had multiple pay rises since then, roughly 2% every six months. That's a pay rise of about $1,200 a year so it's safe to say a trainee at the ATC college would make about $36,000 a year. That's better than most 9 to 5 office jobs

2. ATC Field Training Salary - After you finish at the college you then move out into the real world of Air Traffic Control and start doing on the job training for your first rating. A couple of years ago this salary was approximately $48,000 P.A. Add the 4% P.A. increase and an Air Traffic Controller during field training makes in excess of $50,000.

3. ATC Salary - As soon as you pass your first rating checks you commence the next level of your salary. This is broken up into tiers. You go up a tier on the anniversary of your first rating. Tier 1 salary was roughly $62,000 in 2005. Once again you have to add 4% P.A. to get the current salary.

These tiers go from 1 to 12 or 13. I'm not sure, I haven't made it that far. Your first few tiers jump by a lot. For example I am at the end of tier 2 which is close to $78,000 P.A. In September I will be on tier 3 which is close to $90,000. Tier 4 is mid to high 90's, tier 5 hits six figure income all the way to the highest tier which varies with location. Anywhere from about $125,000 to $135,000+. This isn't including Team Leaders and Managers which can be a natural career progression.

So I hope I have answered your question anonymous from Australia.

Average Day

Driving to work today first thing I noticed was an empty apron. The aerodrome I work at happens to be home of the training academy for our military. They fly CT4's, not exactly sure how many they have but it must be close to twenty. The two in the picture are actual aircraft from the academy. We refer to the apron being empty as "bases loaded". Its a common scenario, I had a late start (11am), the early start had spent the morning processing a whole bunch of departures and I was just in time for all the arrivals and circuit training.

ADC2 isn't really all that difficult. It has its moments of frustration but a large majority of the time it easy going. Its the ADC1 controllers who get the headaches. Today was pretty straight forward. I think the most I had in the circuit was six aircraft with just a few arrivals in between and only a couple of departures at the time.

Six in the circuit is a good number. There's still plenty of room and not too much congestion on the radio. I think I only had a two or three aircraft over transmit today. Every over transmit puts you a few seconds behind, with six in the circuit its easy to recover but when you have eight or nine it gets a bit ridiculous. But there are ways to handle the traffic intensity. Holding any departures on the ground for a couple of minutes is always a good one. Probably frustrating for the pilots on the odd occasion but its safe. And at the end of the day that's what its all about. If safety wasn't a concern then I wouldn't have a job and pilots would separate themselves. I didn't have this drama today. It was pretty straight forward and I went home.

What I might do is bring up something that happened a few months back. As an Air Traffic Control you must apply various "separation standards" on a daily basis. They come in all shapes and colours, one group of them being runway standards. I can't speak for everyone but I have pretty much figured out some of the pilots I deal with don't have an understanding of runway separation.

The standard I was applying this day was one relating to a landing aircraft behind another landing aircraft. This is only one of about five or six but this one allows the controller to clear an aircraft to land while the runway is still occupied by the preceding landing aircraft. I'd like to make a note to my international visitors that separation standards vary in different countries.

This standard states:

A landing aircraft shall not be permitted to cross the landing threshold unless, in the opinion of the tower controller n, no collision risk exists, and:

  1. the landing aircraft has a MTOW below 3,000kg and is a performance category A aircraft; and
  2. the preceding aircraft has a MTOW of 7,000kg or less; and
  3. if landing will vacate the runway without backtracking...
The standard continues on but in this case in unrelated.

I was reasonably busy this day. I had multiple other traffic on frequency but as for the two aircraft in question, one was cleared to land and yet to vacate the runway and one was short final. Both were CT4's so section 1 and 2 of the above standards requirements were met, the preceding CT4 did not have a clearance to backtrack and it wouldn't be required so section 3 was covered and my opinion was that there was no collision risk. The CT4 on final was cleared to land.

During my training and still to this day on my checks (we are required to do routine performance checks) I have had it drilled into me to ensure I do "my runway scans". With every clearance on the runway we are required to scan the runway to ensure it is cleared. Twice. Once with the clearance and once just prior to the aircraft using the runway. In this case my first scan was with the clearance noting the runway was still occupied but there was no collision risk. With my second scan I noticed the preceding CT4 on the runway had missed the second exit and had decided to help himself to a short backtrack. At this instant I no longer had the above standard and the aircraft on final, by this stage close to the runway threshold was sent around. Would the two have collided? Probably not, but there was definitely a possibility.

In text this sounds like a problem with a simple solution. In reality the controllers attention is shared amongst a dozen aircraft and a situation that occurs in a matter of seconds is easily missed.

So how could this situation be avoided in the future? Firstly I'd like to say that an aircraft requires a clearance from ATC to backtrack a runway, everyone knows that. A better appreciation for what the controller is trying to achieve could also help the situation.

That's the job though and that's why we are there.

Ab-Initio Air Traffic Control Course Continued

I could go on and on about my experiences in the college and what I found challenging but we are getting further and further away from what the blog is really about and that is day to day events as they happen in the real world. So I am gonna briefly run over the topics covered during the Air Traffic Control course I studied and then briefly explain how I got to where I am today. For more in depth information on the course you can request it through the comments section of this blog and I will be more than happy to assist.

So my course covered many theory topics. Theory is boring but it is a necessity in life. I wont put you through the drama of reading all about it so don't worry. Our theory topics were anything from basic fundamentals like different types of airspace and restrictions associated with that airspace. We did a lot of flight theory, how does an aircraft fly and what effects its flight. Aerodrome specific topics, runway lighting, taxiway lighting, distance of runway markings from the landing threshold. The list goes on and on. To cut a long story short we learnt quite a lot about the other guys job (the pilot) and everything you could need to know about Air Traffic Control.

The practical part of our course consisted of four topics.

  • Basic TMA - Approach Radar
  • Radar Tower
  • GAAP Tower
  • Procedural Tower
The TMA side of things was only basic. Moderate levels of traffic but the complexity was very basic. I believe the idea of it all is to get an insight into what the other controller is trying to achieve.

Radar Towers are those towers found mostly in capital cities or other areas of importance like major tourist destinations. For example Cairns.

GAAP stands for General Aviation Aerodrome Procedures. Places like Bankstown in Sydney, Archerfield In Brisbane, Jandekot in Perth are all GAAP aerodromes. High density traffic, mostly light aircraft.

Procedural Tower. Any control zone that does not have the luxury of radar coverage. The controller must separate aircraft based on a procedural standard. A procedural standard is one based on information from sources other than radar. Time standards, longitudinal, lateral standards derived by pilots reporting their position and the controller applying the separation standard based on these reports.

I personally found the procedural control to be the most challenging. I mostly enjoyed the TMA side of things, probably due to my background in radar.

So in May 2005 I graduated from the college. This proves you don't need a background in aviation to pass the Air Traffic Control course (but it sure would have helped!).

I was first posted to a GAAP aerodrome.

My first rating was Surface Movement Control (SMC) and Co-ord. Pilots know what a ground controller is but what most of them dont realise is that you are also a co-ordinator. Co-ordinating clearances with other controllers.

I then began training on Aerodrome Control (ADC) and passed this also.

After 6 months consolidation I was transferred to my current location. A Procedural Control Zone. Here we have three positions. SMC/COORD, ADC1 and ADC2.

So far I have acheived my SMC/COORD rating and my ADC2 rating. Our airspace is divided into two sections. ADC1 controls most of the control zone. ADC2 controls a small piece of airspace underneath ADC1's airspace up to 3000ft AMSL. In this airspace we operate VFR Class D Procedures.

So that brings us up to date and I'm about to go to work for the day.

What to look forward to in these posts from now?

Day to day events. Things I could have done better as a controller, things a pilot could have done better and just my thoughts on different things.

I also start some training on ADC1 next week so look forward to hearing about that.

Ab-Initio Air Traffic Control Course

The first day of my course was REAL interesting.

Due to my previous employment I was well and truly comfortable by this stage when it came to moving interstate. Over a period of four years I had moved

  • Sydney to Melbourne
  • Melbourne back to Sydney
  • Sydney to Perth
  • Perth to Melbourne
  • Melbourne back to Perth again
  • Perth back to Sydney
This isn't including the time I spent at sea. Constantly on the move, we spent most of our time out of Darwin.

So I was comfortable with the move to Melbourne. What I wasn't real comfortable with was what I experienced on my first day on course.

Walking into the room (I was close to the last one there) I was confronted with twelve strangers, my classmates. I was quick to realise that professionally I had nothing in common with these people. And to be brutally honest, I had nothing in common with a few of them socially. The ages of my classmates ranged from 21 all the way up to the mid 30's. One theme that seemed to be common amongst them was that they all had some sort of experience in the aviation industry. Those who read the introduction will know that I did not.

This made me very uncomfortable. The conversation in the room consisted of who flew what type of aircraft, how many hours, so on and so on. I began to doubt whether or not I should even be there and wondered why they gave me the job in the first place. The conversation went on, I sat in silence. I was an outsider.

About 15 minutes later our instructors entered the room. It was typical that these "aviators" already knew them. I did not. They introduced themselves anyway and at that point the course began.

Our very first task was known as "ice breakers". Each student would take it in turns of introducing themselves to everyone, giving a short story of where they come from and their previous experience. Socially amongst my friends and family I am apparently known as quite a confident individual. The truth is, deep down I conceal many hidden issues and lack quite a lot of confidence. Public speaking being one of them. I hated my first day.

The rest of the afternoon was all about settling in to the college. Most of the first week was about that actually. Orientation I think they call it. That and bonding sessions with the other classmates.

In the end I did find a couple of people I could relate to. Two of them in particular are still good mates to this day and attended my wedding last month.