ATC Pay and Benefits FAQ - ATC - Aviation Information

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ATC Pay and Benefits FAQ

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ATC Pay and Benefits


Pay is one of the most enticing things about becoming an air traffic controller. Air traffic controllers are one of the highest paid employees in the nation. They can earn upwards of $180,000 per year before premium pay, over time, and holiday pay. The median income for air traffic controllers is around $120,000 per year.

The amount of money each controller makes depends on many things. Each facility is assigned a level. These facility levels are determined by many factors; however, the biggest factor that weighs in determining what a facility level is would be the airports traffic count. The higher the traffic count generally means the higher the facility level. FAA facilities are assigned anywhere from a level 4 (for the slowest facilities) up to a level 12 (for the busiest facilities). A controller working at a level 12 facility will get paid significantly higher than a controller working at a level 4 facility. Locality pay is a percentage of the base salary and also added on to the base salary. Locality pay varies for each city and can be as low as 14% and as high as 34% depending on where you live in the United States.

To get a better understanding of facility pay, facility levels, and locality percentages, check out StuckMic's ATC Pay Guide


As well as earning great pay, air traffic controllers have other good benefits. They earn four hours of sick leave every two weeks as well as between four to eight hours of annual leave (depending on length of service in the FAA) every two weeks. Air Traffic Controllers have many different healthcare options to choose from and many of the plans available are some of the best healthcare plans that exist.

Retirement benefits are based off of the average of the air traffic controllers highest three years in the FAA. Depending on how much time the air traffic controller has in the FAA will determine what percentage of their high three salary they will get at retirement. Because air traffic controllers must retire at 56 years of age, they receive a higher retirement than other federal workers. Air traffic controllers receive 1.7% towards retirement for every year they work up to 20 years. Anything after 20 years is only 1% per year towards retirement. If the air traffic controller was a member of the military, they may choose to buy back their military time at any point throughout their career. Once this has been bought back they may add the amount of years they were in the military to their retirement at the rate of 1% per year. An air traffic controller that had 30 years in the FAA, all of them were air traffic control, and had 5 years of military service (which they opted to buy back) would receive 49% of their highest three years for their retirement. The first 20 years would equal 34%, the next 10 years would equal 10%, and the 5 years of military time would equal 5%.

The air traffic controller would also supplement their retirement by contributions made to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) while in the FAA. The TSP is similar to a 401k. The employee can contribute up to a certain amount of money per pay check and the FAA and government will match up to the first 5% that the employer contributes.

The air traffic controller also contributes to Social Security and is eligible to receive social security payments at the appropriate age.

These three options combined give the air traffic controller a great retirement.
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