Air Traffic Control/Professional Pilot

Hello! My name is Camden and I am a junior in high school. I am currently debating becoming an air traffic controller or commercial pilot. I have toured several schools in the south that offer both as a major/minor. I have a couple questions regarding the respected occupations. If I want to have a family one day is becoming an Air Traffic Controller a better option because they are home every night (or at least at some point during the day)? I would like to be a pilot because I enjoy flying and traveling but I have read that it is not always great for families. Do pilots get to choose where the fly to? Does their destination change often? What if I flew somewhere close enough to be home every night?

Finally, I would like to live in Atlanta because I grew up around that area. If I become an air traffic controller can I request a job in ATL? If I become a Delta pilot can I request a job in ATL?

Thanks for all your help!


First off while both jobs involve aviation they’re clearly very different in many regards. Ultimately this is a decision only you can make as it’s your life but lets get you some answers.

You may or may not have heard but SENIORITY is everything at the airlines. With enough seniority you can get just about everything you want, within reason. Want to be based in ATL? If you’re senior enough to hold ATL as a base you can be if not you can’t. Want to do short trips that keep you closer to home? Again if you have the seniority you can get them, if not no you can’t (btw with the exception of my job, which is flying Interisland for Hawaiian Airlines, there’s no other airline job I know of that will have you home every night). What’s interesting to me is you say you want to be a pilot because you “enjoy flying and traveling” but if you got your wish and could be home nightly you wouldn’t be doing much of either?

Now ATC controllers also operate on a seniority system as well so it’s the same deal. Want to work in ATL, if you’re senior enough bla bla bla. Also keep in mind (as I understand it) you also need to attain a certain skill level to get certain jobs. If you’re a mediocre controller you’re not going to be working ATL (but you could possibly get a gig at one of the smaller airports in the area.

As I said these are 2 very different careers and only you can decide.


For ATC, you know which type of facility (Terminal/Tracon/En-Route) you are selected for before you head to the FAA Academy. During final evals, you are given a facility selection sheet that lists the available facilities on it. If there are 20 lines on the sheet and only 10 students pass, the facilities listed on lines 11-20 are no longer available to select. On “Facility Selection Day”, a rep from the FAA goes around the room and asks for selections based on the student with the highest grade first.

Depending on the type of facility, you may have to become a CPC (fully certified) before you are able to transfer. There are options to request a hardship transfer, but they are typically only granted for extenuating circumstances.


This is hard for us to answer. I avoid advising people what life decisions they should make for themselves. Best advice I can give is look at our schedules. And then find as many air traffic controllers you can and ask them what their lifestyles are like. By then you should be able to decide which lifestyle is right for you.

I know many fathers and mothers in aviation. Just about all of the pilots I fly with are. It can be done. It’s just different.

If you’re not sure where to start looking for controllers, my first move would be to connect with a local flight school and see if they can set up a tower tour for you. We did this often for our students. Most smaller towers are open to the idea. Not sure if you’ll run into any resistance because you’re not a student. Worth a try.


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