The FAA expects to hire and train more than 15,000 new controllers over the next 10 years, after hiring 1,116 in 2006.
In the recent past, new hires came from two pools: past controllers (including those with military experience) and candidates with college degrees in air traffic control.
These days, the FAA is also hiring from the general public, even going so far as to set up job fairs.
Novices encouraged to apply 30 years old and younger, only launch themselves into a different training process than their predecessors. Older controllers had to go the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City, where they underwent a nine-week screen to determine whether they had the required skills.
That screen is now an 8-hour test called the AT-SAT. And while the nine-week screen had a 57 percent pass rate, more than 90 percent of candidates pass the AT-SAT.
Once they pass the test, students may take basic courses on the Web. More experienced candidates move directly to basic training at the Academy, which takes six to eight months and includes instruction on new simulator equipment. According to a 2004 FAA report, about 95 percent will successfully graduate from the Academy.
Trainees then advance to on-the-job training, by far the longest, most expensive and most difficult part of the training process. On average, trainees have spent three to five years training at a facility; the FAA hopes to reduce that time to two to three years.
On-the-job training includes classes and real-time experience. A handful of facilities also have realistic simulators to help trainees learn the intricacies of a particular facility.
Trainees must master every job in their facility, from guiding planes on the ground to directing them through the air. There are usually five to seven different positions to learn.