Home Ask an Air Traffic Controller What is the Difference Between Civilian and Military Air Traffic Control?

What is the Difference Between Civilian and Military Air Traffic Control?

What is the Difference Between Civilian and Military Air Traffic Control?
Old school Cammis


I was never in the military, nor am I an ATCer. I’m just a low time skyhawk driver with a real humble attitude. I’ve even dropped saying “Kilo”, thanks to your site. Anyway, my question is this, are most ATCers former military? Is that the best way to get into the job? If so, what’s the biggest difference between military ATC and non-military? Thanks for the laughs (on a daily basis).

-Dave from Ocala-

Dear Dave,

Thanks for being a fan. It’s praise from people like you, that keeps us coming back. To answer your question, yes, a large portion are former military. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “Most”, but yes, many are. You walk into any F Hey Hey facility and you’ll find people from all the branches. Where I work has a pretty good contingent of Marines. The best way to get into ATC? That’s a tough one. Nowadays you can get hired with ZERO ATC experience. That’s not to say these people can’t make it, because think about it, we all had ZERO experience at one point. In some cases the whole “Military Experience” thing has been bad. Early on during the White Book, new hires with military backgrounds showed up and assumptions were made. In some cases, assuming the developmental had legitimate skills was good…because they had legit experience. In some cases it was bad (i.e. the Developmental came from a bullshit, weak ass facility). Also, some people came in with an attitude that they were already checked out as an ATCer in the military, so they were guaranteed to be successful in the F Hey Hey. This is not the case. No one is guaranteed to check out. Anyone can wash out. Bad phraseology is bad phraseology, and some people found it hard to adapt. There are plenty of people that go the non-military route, and become outstanding controllers. Purdue, Beaver, ERAU, UND, all these places seem to provide excellent instruction (I’m partial to UND because they are the best fans). As for what is different in the Military vs. Civilian ATC world, I’d have to say the camaraderie. People in the military tend to be closer to one another. It could be because most are younger and don’t have a ton a family commitments. It could be because most live in the barracks and are therefore closer in proximity. Either way, its less like a family in the civilian life. There are great friendships, however it’s just different. Also people tend to bitch about time on position more in the civilian world than in the Military. In the military is “Sign on, die on” because you are on position almost all day. In the civilian world it’s more like “I’ve been on 30 minutes, where’s my relief”. I’m exaggerating, but not by much. I hope I answered your questions. Cheers to you my friend.


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