Air Traffic Controllers' Salaries

Government officials in Spain are calling Spanish air traffic controllers’ salaries ‘millionaire salaries’ as they announced plans to cut cost in that sector. Usually, air traffic controllers, salaries and millionaire are not bundled together in the same sentence.

Government officials in Spain are calling Spanish air traffic controllers’ salaries ‘millionaire salaries’ as they announced plans to cut the cost of its loss-making state-operated Aeropuertos Españoles y Navegación Aérea (AENA). Usually, air traffic controllers, salaries and millionaire are not bundled together in the same sentence so I had to investigate.

It was revealed that some Spanish air traffic controllers were earning as much as 10 times more than the Prime Minister and 50 times the average Spanish worker salary. Spain’s Prime Minister receives an annual salary of around 92,000 euros, while the average worker earns less than 18,000 euros per year. Here’s what an audit of the controllers’ salaries in 2009 revealed:

  • 10 earned between 810,000 and 900,000 euros,
  • 226 earned between 450,000 and 540,000 euros,
  • 701 earned between 270,000 and 360,000 euros, and
  • the average basic salary is 200,000 euros but most double or triple this amount by working overtime.

These Spanish controllers are perhaps the poster boys and girls of this profession. Air traffic controllers everywhere dream of this sort of wages. Personally, I am happy to know that somebody somewhere has acknowledged the worth of air traffic controllers and was prepared to reward them accordingly.

Moving on, it should be noted here that air traffic controlling is perhaps the most stressful job on Earth, earning the title for the snap decisions that are constantly being made to ensure safety in the busy skies above us. We do not have the luxury of second guessing our decisions, and instructions given to pilots must be correct 100 percent of the times. Anything short of this could result in deadly consequences.

So what do the Spanish controllers give in return for their wages? Controllers work 12-hour days made up of two four-hour shifts and two, two-hour rest periods. According to the Spanish government, most do an average of 1,200 hours with 400 hours overtime a year. They must have a degree, speak good English and pass a medical examination. Pretty routine stuff, however, I think the daily hours are way too long, and can give way to fatigue.

By comparison, British air traffic controllers are paid £60,000 to £90,000, U.S. controllers make $90 to $160,000, and the French controllers take home €110,000. That said, I am too ashamed to say what controllers in this part of the world take home.

What salary would be enough to keep you quiet in your profession? Controllers and non-controllers can weigh in here.

21 Responses

Ileane @ Basic Blog Tips

Hi Wayne, this is really interesting. I’m not sure how to convert pounds, to Euros to dollars. Who is making the most between British, French and US?
I agree with you that the hours are way too long. Even with a 2 hour rest period, I guess that’s long enough for a power nap, but with those high salaries most likely they are going to the mall instead.

Thanks for the run down.

Wayne Farley

Here are the comparisons in US dollars:
U.S. controllers: US$90,000 - US$160.000
British controllers: US$94,000 - US$141,000
French controllers: US$142,000


I always knew I got into the wrong business! Those salaries are obscene, and during my earlier career as a corporate pilot when I flew across or into Spain the air traffic controllers were not very helpful.

Wayne Farley

Obscene is mild, but I wouldn’t complain if I were earning that much, and I’d be extremely helpful.


Please note that IFATCA sent out a communication on the Spanish situation. The mismanagement of the ANSP has led to the high salaries of some ATCOs as they were working overtime in weekends and nightshifts constantly. For political reasons the ATCOs were blamed and the provider was protected by the MoT. So the story they brought to the outside world is far from complete. The MoT then came up with the idea of filling up ATCO working positions with Mil ATCOs in case an industrial action would take place. This is against IFATCA policies. After interference of the Prime Minister and other lobbies talks between government and ATCOs are ongoing. To solve the staff shortage (working overtime has stopped) the provider now wants to introduce Single Person Operations without even a safety assessment. Again against IFATCA policies.


Wow thats a lot of money but I am sure they deserved, other people’s lives depends on them.



I don’t think it’s obscene. It’s tremendously difficult to get in and get through the training (or so I’m told), and then one has to be responsible for the lives of thousands of people every day, where one mistake could actually kill a bunch of people in a grotesque way, ruining their lives, their families’ lives, and probably their own. And then they have to do it all again the next day.

I’m totally good with them getting paid what they do.


> Controllers work 12-hour days made up of two four-hour shifts and two, two-hour rest periods. According to the Spanish government, most do an average of 1,200 hours with 400 hours overtime a year.

1200 + 400 = 1600 hours per year
1600 hours per yr. / 12 hours per day = 133 days per year

If the 1600 hours doesn’t include breaks it’s still only 1600 / 8 = 200 days per year

> I think the daily hours are way too long

With two four-hour shifts, when is the second two-hour rest period, before the first shift or after the second? It seems unnecessary.

Wayne Farley

I am not so sure how the work and rest periods are administered, but it will be interesting to know.

seo manipulator

Wayne, it is sad that ATC are not paid well. It is a job people should be paid well to do. The passengers and pilots on the planes are depending on a person for their safety. Since that is the case, should they not be paid well? People spend way too much time obsessing over celebrities, and I think ATC are true heroes.

Wayne Farley

Thanks for recognizing the role of ATCOs.


As an air traffic controller I can say in the 10 years I have been in the FAA. I have never made more than 68k a year. The numbers you see are not right. The starting pay at a low level towers is 45k a year when you are fully qualified. Getting fully qualified takes 2-4 years, and if you can’t get check out they fire you. The higher pay is at places like Chicago, New York, and LAX. Most Contollers make about 63- 74k a year. You also might want to know controllers can not take most medication and work. All medication has to be approved by a flight surgen( except asprin, anti acids , and motrin. Most towers are open 24 hours a day, so we work days, nights, weekends, and holidays. The job is fast paced and stressful. Our number 1 concern is safety not pay. So we get a little ticked when people say we make all this money and all we want is more. Not true. Call a local tower and ask for a tour you will be amazed.

Wayne Farley

Logan, thanks for your comments. I am aware that controllers cannot take certain medication and work, also the disparity of wages depending upon where you work. Greater rewards for higher workloads. Keep up the good work. Safety first.


Well, I could say I`m astonished by what I`ve just read regarding salaries.
As an air traffic controller in Brazil, I work at a Center.. and our average pay is around 1500 to 3000 US dollars per month.
What do you think about that?
How much do you guys work around the world? Cuz here we work on 8 hours shifts, 2 hours of actual radar control and 2 hours of rest. Around 22 days a month.


Hi everyone. Greek En route Area ATCo here. We make aprox 55,000 USD annualy (net, after taxes). 4 days on duty. 2 off. 7 hours shifts except for the night shift (8,5 hours). 90 minutes on the radar, 45 minutes break.


HI all I am from India, we earn 15000USD/Year
8 hours shift 1 night off extra duties with no extra pay
night allowance 2USD/NIGHT

People dont understand the seriousness of this job & here in India this job is compared to other government jobs…

Wayne Farley

Thanks for your contribution. ATC really is serious and it is incumbent on you ATCOs as a group to make that known so that you can be better rewarded for the great job that you do.


Hi wayne, do u know the base of salary of a Controler here in Guyana?


The salary of an ATCO in Guyana ranges from $9000US to $18,000Us per annum. No night or holiday premium.


These people quite seriously are under paid. So many lives in their hands. There are no lives in the hands of Bankers, or finance. No lives at risk with footballers, so why on thois earth populated by humans, do we respect those people enough to justify their sickly wages and complain about people who care. Nurses don’t get rewarded enough, or Doctors or many people who take on the daily task of caring for other humans, yet kicking a leather ball and clicking on a desktop page to request to sell or buy commodities is regarded as ok. What a great example of a sick sick world we live in. Stop being sheep and get rid of these people who are sucking the world dry of common sense. One day the developing world will require all the things which are taken for granted by the erst of the world, then the demand for flights will double and therefore increasing accidents. But only if people are paid minimal amounts to make sure the safety of all those travelling. Think before you jump on the backs of those who are doing something you are unable to do, ever. I am not a air traffic controller, I would like to be, however, I do have much respect for their position.


WF I just found and read your Blog on Air Traffic Salaries. As far as the USA is concerned you totally missed the mark here on salary. The figures are totally mis leading and not true. I know first hand as I spent 30 years in the system and know it well. Also the journey to get to your final pay rate can take 1 to 5 years before you reach full journeyman level. That is provided you do not fall victim to 50% failure rate in the field. As a side note about 10% do not make it out of the ATC Academy at OKlahoma City, OK.

In addition your response to one of the comments that there is greater pay for greater complexity is so far from reality it is shameful. Again I know first hand because I lived it. It is my observation that your world of expertise might be international, not USA.

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About Wayne Farley

Wayne Farley

I am Wayne, an aviation safety evangelist who once made my living working in the control tower. Engage me while I share my thoughts, experience, and news from the aviation world. After writing "13 Characteristics of an air traffic controller" in 2010, it went viral and established me as an unofficial ambassador for ATC.


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