Often topping the list of highest-paid positions without a college degree is the air traffic controller. In fact, this occupation can bring in a six-figure salary. The road, however, isn’t for the faint of heart. Training might start with classroom instruction and air traffic simulators, but it quickly moves on to real-life scenarios in an actual air traffic control facility.
In 2011, air traffic controllers averaged $114,460 a year. But high salaries — and low ones, for that matter — can skew the average, and median wage is often a better indication of earnings. Half of all air traffic controllers earned less than $113,540 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10 percent made just over $169,000, while the bottom 10 percent made less than $61,650 annually. None of these figures, however, accounts for level of education.
Salary by Education:
While an air traffic collegiate degree isn’t a prerequisite, it does help. Anyone without this diploma must take the Air Traffic Basic Course — a five-week qualification-training program. Upon completion, you then move on to an entry-level training program at the FAA Academy, where the starting salary is $17,803 a year. Your annual salary increases to $37,070 once you’re assigned to a facility, and continues to increase with each on-the-job training program. Eventually, you can expect to reach the median wage for all air traffic controllers -- without a college degree.
Salary by Location:
Once you’re fully set into your career, location can affect your earnings. For example, air traffic controllers in the District of Columbia earned the most in the nation as of 2011, averaging $138,560 a year. Those in New Hampshire were a close second, averaging $135,650 a year, while those in Illinois also fared better than most, making $132,060 a year. The same, however, can’t be said for air traffic controllers in Idaho, where the average salary was $65,580 a year.
Through 2020, air traffic controllers can expect growth in the number of jobs of just 3 percent, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is much slower than the national average for all occupations — an estimated 14 percent. The sluggish growth rate is a result of the FAA already hiring an abundance of new controllers. It’s also limited by the federal budget and new technologies allowing fewer controllers to handle a greater number of airplanes at one time.