The FAA is an integral part of the National Airspace System (NAS) and one of their primary strategic priorities is to make aviation safer and smarter. Another is to Lay the foundation for the NAS of the future through the implementation of major technological changes. There are many opportunities for employment in a diverse cross section of occupations.
The FAA employs 45,756 federal workers, including 295 that work in the U.S. Territories or overseas. As of December 31, 2015 there were 18,739 Air traffic controllers (FG-2152), 5,834 transportation specialists (FG-2101), 4,868 inspectors under the FG-1825 series, and 4,141 engineers of various types. Add to these numbers numerous training, staff, and support specialists, OSHA compliance officers, administrative and management positions.
History of the FAA
The federal government enacted the Air Commerce Act in 1926 to facilitate air commerce. This act included the issuance and enforcement of air traffic laws, licensing pilots, aircraft certification, the establishment of airways along with the operation and maintenance of navigation aids.
The Civil Aeronautics Act in1938 established the independent Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA), with a three-member Air Safety Board that would conduct accident investigations and recommend ways of preventing accidents. Then in 1958 the President signed the Federal Aviation Act, which transferred the Civil Aeronautics Authority’s functions to a new independent Federal Aviation Agency responsible for civil aviation safety.
Finally, in 1966, Congress authorized the creation of The Department of Transportation (DOT) and under the DOT the Federal Aviation Agency became the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
After deregulation, the FAA designed a long term plan to modernize. The National Airspace System (NAS) Plan, a comprehensive 20-year blueprint for a state-of-the-art traffic control and air navigation system to accommodate projected growth in air travel. The Capital Investment Plan, established in 1991, incorporated NAS plan projects and higher levels of automation as well as new radar, communications, and weather forecasting systems.
The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) came into existence in 2003. This was a multi-year, multi-agency effort to develop an air transportation system for 2025 and beyond. NextGen enables the FAA to keep costs under control while providing safety, security, and efficiencies within the agency. Visit the FAA’s History page for a comprehensive historical perspective.
The Largest FAA Organizations
Air Traffic Service
The Air Traffic Organization (ATO) is the operational arm of the FAA. It is responsible for providing safe and efficient air navigation services to 30.2 million square miles of airspace. This represents more than 17 percent of the world’s airspace and includes all of the United States and large portions of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico.
Over 18,000 federal air traffic controllers at 315 FAA air traffic facilities are on the job, guiding more than 87,000 flights every day across our national airspace system.
Primary Air Traffic Controller duties: (Excerpted from the OOH)
Air traffic controllers typically do the following:
Issue landing and takeoff instructions to pilots
Monitor and direct the movement of aircraft on the ground and in the air, using radar, computers, or visual references
Control all ground traffic at airports, including baggage vehicles and airport workers
Manage communications by transferring control of departing flights to other traffic control centers and accepting control of arriving flights
Provide information to pilots, such as weather updates, runway closures, and other critical information
Alert airport response staff, in the event of an aircraft emergency
Air traffic controllers’ primary concern is safety, but they also must direct aircraft efficiently to minimize delays. They manage the flow of aircraft into and out of the airport airspace, guide pilots during takeoff and landing, and monitor aircraft as they travel through the skies.
Controllers usually manage multiple aircraft at the same time and must make quick decisions to ensure the safety of the aircraft. For example, a controller might direct one aircraft on its landing approach while providing another aircraft with weather information.
The following are examples of types of air traffic controllers:
Tower controllers direct the movement of vehicles on runways and taxiways. They check flight plans, give pilots clearance for takeoff or landing, and direct the movement of aircraft and other traffic on the runways and in other parts of the airport. Most work from control towers, watching the traffic they control.
Approach and departure controllers ensure that aircraft traveling within an airport’s airspace maintain minimum separation for safety. They give clearances to enter controlled airspace and hand off control of aircraft to en route controllers. They use radar equipment to monitor flight paths and work in buildings known as Terminal Radar Approach Control Centers (TRACONs). They also provide information to pilots, such as weather conditions and other critical notices.
En route controllers monitor aircraft once they leave an airport’s airspace. They work at air route traffic control centers located throughout the country, which typically are not located at airports.
Technical Operations (Airways Facilities Service)
Technical Operations ensures safety and efficiency in the National Airspace System (NAS) by effectively managing air navigation services and infrastructure.
Technical Operations staff members oversee the following activities and services:
Efficient flight services to customers through responsive and cost-effective maintenance of NAS facilities, systems, and equipment
Safe, cost-effective, and efficient communications; frequency spectrum engineering; and navigational services for NAS
Standard development, evaluation, and certification of NAS procedures and equipment for customers worldwide
Infrastructure management including policy, programming, requirements, engineering, integration and implementation support, service life extension, and maintenance support
Airway Transportation Systems Specialist (FG-2101)
Primary Airways Transportation System Specialist duties:
Airway Transportation Systems Specialists (ATSS) perform in the capacity of highly specialized electronics technicians The primary responsibilities of this position are associated with the installation, maintenance, modification and certification of communications, navigational aids, environmental, radar or automation fields.
Airway Transportation Systems Specialists (ATSS) install, maintain, modify and certify electronic equipment and lighting aids associated with facilities and services required for aviation navigation to assure a reliable, safe, and smooth flow of air traffic. This involves work with radar, communications, automation, and navigational aids equipment as well as airport lighting aids and electrical/mechanical equipment supporting facilities on and off airports within the network of the National Airspace System.
It includes periodic maintenance (inspection and analysis of equipment with associated adjustments), modification, corrective maintenance, troubleshooting, repair and replacement of malfunctioning equipment, and certification. ATSSs may be required to maintain entire facilities, including electronic equipment, electrical power distribution, emergency backup power conditioning systems, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; electronic equipment only; or power and HVAC systems only.
Flight Standards Service
The Flight Standards Service promotes safe air transportation by setting the standards for certification and oversight of airmen, air operators, air agencies, and designees. They also promote safety of flight of civil aircraft and air commerce by:
Accomplishing certification, inspection, surveillance, investigation, and enforcement
Setting regulations and standards
Managing the system for registration of civil aircraft and all airmen records
Aviation Safety Inspector (FG-1825)
Air Carrier Operations
Air Carrier Avionics
Air Carrier Maintenance
Primary Aviation Safety Inspector duties:
Aviation Safety Inspectors in these specialties apply knowledge and skills typically acquired as repairman of aircraft, aircraft parts, or avionics equipment to develop and administer regulations and safety standards pertaining to the airworthiness and maintenance of aircraft and related equipment. They engage primarily in the following types of assignments:
(a) Evaluating mechanics and repair facilities for initial certification and continuing adequacy
(b) evaluating the mechanic`s training program
(c) inspecting aircraft and related equipment for airworthiness
(d) evaluating the maintenance aspects of programs of air carriers and similar commercial operations. The evaluations may include the adequacy of maintenance facilities, equipment and procedures; the competence of employees; the adequacy of the program or schedule for periodic maintenance and overhauls; and the airworthiness of the aircraft. Aviation Safety Inspectors (Airworthiness) may perform a variety of other inspections, investigations and advisory duties. However the primary requirement for positions in this specialty is knowledge and skill pertaining to the maintenance and airworthiness of aircraft. Inspectors are required to travel frequently and to occasionally work irregular duty hours.
The next article in this series will include an interview with an air traffic controller (FG-2152) from LaGuardia International Airport located in New York City, NY.
Arlene Salac, Public Affairs Officer, Washington, D.C.
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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.