What are Working Conditions Like for an Air Traffic Controller? - ATC - Aviation Information

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What are Working Conditions Like for an Air Traffic Controller?

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What are Working Conditions Like for an Air Traffic Controller?

Regular Days Off (RDO) - Each year controller's choose days off (RDOs) by seniority. You may choose two consecutive days off in a row if you are bidding on a 5 day - 40 hour work week schedule. At some facilities you can even work a compressed schedule of 4 day - 40 hour work week. In that case you will choose three consecutive days off, but these schedules are usually limited to certain days off. Most facilities choose the standard two consecutive days off in a row and 5 day - 40 hour work week schedules. Whatever RDOs you choose, you will be assigned them for the entire year. Towards the end of the next year, you may choose new RDOs again by seniority. As your seniority increases in the facility you will have the option of getting better choices of RDOs. Commonly throughout the FAA Friday - Saturday or Saturday - Sunday RDOs are the most desirable days off and Tuesday - Wednesday or Wednesday - Thursday RDOs are the least desirable.

Leave (paid time off) - Leave will fall into one of four categories; annual leave, sick leave, leave-without-pay, absent without leave (AWOL). Annual and sick leave are earned every two weeks. As a new hire without military or government work experience you will earn 4 hours of annual leave and 4 hours of sick leave every pay period (two weeks). If you have military or government work experience of three years or more when you start your employment with the FAA, then you will earn 6 hours of annual leave every two weeks. Once you accumulate 15 years of government service, you will earn 8 hours of annual leave every two weeks. Sick leave can only be accrued at 4 hours every two weeks regardless of how much government service you have. Leave-without-pay is used when you have exhausted annual leave or sick leave, or in certain cases it can be taken in lieu of annual or sick leave. AWOL is generally given as disciplinary action when you are absent from work without being approved for one of the other types of leave.

Seniority - The rules for seniority are determined by the National Air Traffic Controller's Association (NATCA). NATCA is the union that represents all air traffic controllers (among others) in the FAA. Seniority determines who gets first pick at RDOs, scheduled annual leave (vacation time), among a few other things. Your starting day of seniority begins on your first day at your first air traffic control facility after you graduate the FAA Academy.

How the vacation bidding process works - Towards the end of every year each controller will be given the opportunity to choose RDOs and scheduled annual leave (vacation time) that for the upcoming calendar year (Jan 1st - Dec 31st). Each controller picks his/her RDOs and vacation. The exact parameters on how much vacation you can bid at a time and how many rounds of vacation bidding are determined by management and your local NATCA facility representative that follows national NATCA guidelines. Bidding on two weeks of scheduled annual leave or vacation time doesn't guarantee its approval for use. It may be taken away under certain instances such as sudden under-staffing or airspace redesign. The first choice will go the most senior air traffic controller. Then it will be passed down to the least senior air traffic controller. Certified controllers will bid against one another and controllers in training can also bid against one another.

Shift Work - Shift work generally consists of Day shifts (that vary between 6am and 5pm), Night shifts (that vary between 12pm and 11pm), and Midnight shifts (that vary between 10pm and 8am). Specific time for the start of each shift will be determine by facility management and local NATCA representatives. Each shift lasts a minimum of 8 hours and cannot last longer than 10 hours. The most common shift work schedule consists of working 2 night shifts, 2 day shifts, and one midnight shift each week. Trainees will not normally work midnight shifts unless required for training. A trainee's the last day of work will usually be a day shift. This is consistent among many air traffic control facilities; however, some terminal facilities are not open 24 hours a day or open seven days a week. Some are open on holidays and some are not. Some have shifts that operate on a full week of days, then a full week of nights. Breaks during shift generally vary between 15 minutes and 45 minutes, but can be shorter or longer depending on staffing. Lunch breaks are the longest and everyone gets just one. You are guaranteed a least a 30 minute lunch break between your fourth and sixth hour at work. Some facilities have cafeterias but most do not. You should plan to pack a lunch or dinner and snacks for work. Controllers take turns going on break. Supervisors set the length of breaks based on staffing for that day. The more people there are to work the longer the break and the more frequent they become. The fewer there are to work the shorter the break and the less frequent they become.

Annual/Sick Leave and Shift Swaps - You will be able to request the use of annual and sick leave at any time throughout the year even if it falls on days that you did not bid on the year prior. Approval will be subject to a first-come, first-serve basis and as staffing permits. It is also possible to swap shifts with another controller when you cannot get a particular day off. Sick leave is only authorized for use in relation to illness, doctor appointments, etc. It may also be used for ill family members or other circumstances like the birth of a child.
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