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Airway Transportation Systems Specialist – Working For the FAA

In this article on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) we interview James Watts, an Airway Transportation Systems Specialist (FV-2101). The FAA hires most of this group to maintain the communications, navigation, surveillance, and automation equipment for the Federal Aviation Administration.  Employees are located throughout the country at airports, air traffic control centers, training centers, and related faculties.

The federal government employs 8,573 transportation specialists of which 152 work overseas. The Department of Transportation is the largest employer with 6,619 followed by the Department of the Air Force with 952 and the Department of the Army with 330.  Most cabinet level agencies and a few large independent agencies hire in this category. The FAA uses a Core Compensation Pay Band System instead of the General Schedule system that most are familiar with.

 Jamal Watts Interview


Jamal Watts ATSS
Jamal Watts ATSS

Jamal Watts, is a Supervisory Airway Transportation Systems Specialist, J Band, FV-2101 and works at the John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Why did you become an Airway Transportation Systems Specialist?

A lot of people joke about starting their jobs when they were just a kid, but for me it is true! I started working for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at the age of 16.  At the time I was only looking for a summer job. My Mom wanted me to keep busy over the summer. I contacted the Cooperative Education office at my high school, August Martin in Jamaica, NY and they helped me get a job with an FAA program that hired high school students during the summer. The program was designed to give high school students a window into different FAA careers. I worked with FAA’s Aviation Education Department as an Office Clerk. Our office did outreach to high school and college students to get them interested in careers in aviation.

Some of my duties consisted of sending schools and organizations literature about careers in aviation including Pilots, Flight Attendants, Air Traffic Controllers and Electronic Technicians. The literature on the Electronic Technicians jobs got my attention. I always had an interest in fixing things and working with electronics. As I continued working with the summer program I requested a transfer to FAA’s Technical Operations organization which employed the Electronics Technicians that I had read so much about. So then I became an Electronic Technician Co-op Student. This group is responsible for installing new equipment at FAA facilities like Instrument Landing Systems (ILS), Runway Visual Range (RVR), Ambient Lighting System (ALS), and Communication Equipment just to name a few. I continued in the Co-op program until I graduated high school. After a couple of semesters at Queensborough Community College, Bayside, New York, I applied to the FAA’s Electronic Engineering Program. This program provided on the job training which I successfully completed and I was able to join the FAA as a full time Electronics Technician. My first position was as a Maintenance Electronics Technician at Newark Liberty International Air Traffic Control Tower.  The position is now called an Airway Transportation System Specialist (ATSS).

What is the most demanding part of being an Airway Transportation Systems Specialist?

The most demanding part of being an Airway Transportation System Specialist is keeping up with the Federal Aviation Administration’s vast and complex network of electronics systems required for the world’s largest air traffic control and navigation system. Our mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world.

What is a typical day like as an Airway Transportation Specialist?

A typical day as an Airway Transportation System Specialist can vary depending upon what is happening in the National Airspace System (NAS).  If there are any system equipment outages of course that is the priority. The FAA maintains over a 99 percent reliability in all of our systems nationwide, but equipment problems do occur and it is our job to get those systems back to 100 percent operation. Each system we maintain has a preventative maintenance schedule that must be followed which can be necessary daily, weekly, quarterly, semi-annually, annually or bi-annually.

What is unique about being an Airway Transportation Systems Specialist?

The most unique thing about being an Airway Transportation System Specialist is that we are the people behind the scenes playing a vital role to make sure the NAS runs smoothly. We work hand in hand with our partners, the air traffic controllers. It is a real source of pride for me to know that my work keeps the flying public safe.

Would you recommend an Airway Transportation Systems Specialist as a good job occupation?

I would definitely recommend an Airway Transportation System Specialist as a good job occupation. There are five different specialty areas that you can go pursue: Environmental, Navigational Aids, Communication, Radar, and Automation. It could be the start of a great career. The Federal Aviation Administration continually looks to the future by identifying, recruiting, and training a workforce that will ensure the U.S. keeps the world’s safest airspace.

Occupational Requirements

  • You must be a U.S. citizen to apply.
  • The average salary is $92,145.


Undergraduate and Graduate Education: Major study or at least 24 semester hours in any combination of the following: computer science, mathematics, electronics, physical sciences, information management, engineering, telecommunications, or other fields related to the position.


General Experience (for GS-5 positions):Experience that provided a basic knowledge of the principles of electronics, mathematics, computers, aeronautics, or related areas, or an understanding, both theoretical and practical, of automated systems operation, integration, management, and maintenance. Experience may have been gained in occupations such as computer specialist, electronics technician, telecommunications specialist, engineer, or other work related to the position to be filled.

Specialized Experience: For GS-7 and GS-9: Experience that provided the opportunity to acquire and the need to apply practical and theoretical knowledge of the principles, functions, and processes associated with electronics and electricity concepts; computer systems and information management concepts telecommunications concepts; and system management and integration methods.

For GS-11 and above: Experience that demonstrated an extensive knowledge of and experience in the technology, system interrelationships, and management of civilian or military automated aviation, navigation, and electronics systems.

The FAA has many job opportunities so go today and explore what they have to offer.

Job Listings


  • Arlene Salac, Public Affairs Officer, Washington, D.C.
  • FAA website: http://www.faa.gov
  • Photos provided by the FAA

Additional Resources

Helpful Career Planning Tools 

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About The Author

A Pennsylvania native, Betty Boyd moved to the Tennessee Valley in 1994. She retired in early 2012 after 30 years of Government service. Boyd was an Acquisition Manager/IT Manager/ Project Manager during her 30-year career. Boyd also served as a supervisor and team leader during her career. In 2012 Boyd founded a consulting firm, Boyd Consulting Services, which offers writing services to clients and companies. For more information about these writing services see the following website: http://www.BettyBoydWriting.com/. Betty attended Athens State University, Athens, AL and received a B.B.A. in Management of Technology in 2000. She received her Masters of Science degree from Syracuse University with a concentration in Information Management in 2007. Boyd is a certified Level III contracting professional and she received a Masters level certificate in Project Management from the National Defense University in 2008.