My wife:

  • is 40 years old
  • is a mother of two (able to do five things simultaneously / in the same time)
  • has been working as an English and French teacher for her whole career (19+ last years)
  • has very little to do with airline industry (being a passenger and low-level enthusiast)

I think that this is enough (especially point 2. and 3.) and I'd like her to at least try to become an ATC (i.e. enroll for a preliminary English test).

She is reluctant saying that she:

  • is too old
  • have very little or no technical background / education / experience

to pass even first tests, not mentioning becoming a professional ATC.

Can anyone judge which one of us is right or at least provide some source of information, based on which such judgement can be done? I.e. to formulate an answer (similar to this one) on unique challenges and limitations for starting a career as an ATC at 40 years old?

It is possible in the country where we live (Poland). The original limitation (26 years old) was raised to 35 years old some 10-15 years ago and then 40 years at most. And now the age barrier is lifted completely.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Is this something that she wants, or that you want for her? (I know, more of a marriage question...) $\endgroup$ Nov 18 '19 at 20:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well she has to want it pretty bad to even get anywhere in that trade, so it'll get resolved pretty quickly. I'm glad I didn't make it past the first stage in the end. Being a highly creative person, the "repetitive" nature of the job (not sure how else to describe it) would've bored me to tears once past the learning curve. The biggest problem is if you dump a job to start through the training, the risk of washing out before finishing is very high (I was told only about 20% of initial applicants accepted made it through), leaving you on the street. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Nov 18 '19 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ I'm guessing item 2 on the first list is at least somewhat humorous, so I won't bother digging up scientific studies about multi- vs. switchtasking. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Nov 19 '19 at 0:20
  • $\begingroup$ Something to check on is the medical requirements. I don't know about Poland, but in the US, a controller needs (I believe) a class 2 medical, the same as a commercial pilot. The older we are, the more medical issues tend to crop up. $\endgroup$ Nov 19 '19 at 4:10

Some years ago (in the 80s) I tried out for ATC in Canada and took the preliminary screening test, which was a series of 25 diagrams representing radar displays with targets moving around different airways, crisscrossing each other in various directions, and you had to answer 2 questions for each diagram, whether or not targets at different speeds and altitudes would conflict with each other (there was a table with all the targets' speeds, tracks and altitudes). It was a timed test and I wasn't paying attention so I was at question 45 when time was called and you had to drop your pencil right away. So I didn't answer the last 5.

I got one or two wrong, giving me a score of 43, a "pass" for the test, but there so many applicants they were only taking candidates with scores over 45 for the next stage. Probably would have made it if I'd just answered the remaining 5 at random.

Anyway, actual background is not that important. They are looking for a very special set of mental skills, and someone has them or they don't. Mainly, a very high cognitive and spatial IQ, and a very powerful memory. To the extent that educational background matters, it would mostly be as a sign of intelligence.

I used to know a centre controller who told me that once trained and experienced, and having the required mental abilities in the first place, and the fact that the high stress periods don't last an entire shift (there are "rush hours" where things are intense, then relatively quiet) the job wasn't nearly as tough as the public perception.

She should just go ahead and apply and start the screening process, as I don't believe there are any specific professional or educational prerequisites, and there is no harm in trying. She will probably find out pretty quickly whether there is a chance. One thing going for her is the overall personnel supply situation which is affecting ATC to some degree as much as other parts of aviation (shortages of applicants with what it takes).

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for a detailed and comprehensive answer. $\endgroup$
    – trejder
    Nov 18 '19 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ There is a huge difference between today’s teaching methods and those of 80’s. It isn’t necessary that you will always have rush hours and stuff as it totally depends at which airport you work and how highly reputed(for being busy)it is. $\endgroup$
    – Valay_17
    Nov 19 '19 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ Nothing to do with teaching methods. I'm talking about filtering candidates inborn mental skills. Of course there are control towers where the controller sits around doing nothing 90% of the time. The rush hour stuff happens at area centers and ATC units at major airports. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Nov 19 '19 at 2:02

It is country specific

In the US, as well as I can translate the legalese to English, your application must be accepted by the FAA before you turn 30. (I considered it myself, about a decade too late.)

In Canada, you must be at least 18 years of age, but I couldn't find any readily available maximum. As another answer indicates, there may not be one.

In Denmark (per a comment by J. Hougaard), there used to be a maximum age for applicants, but it was removed a few years ago because it is against EU Law to discriminate based on age. He assumes the same applies in other EU countries, including Poland.

That said, in Poland, PANSA appears to be the agency involved. I can't translate any of it, so you're on your own there.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In Denmark there used to be a max age for applicants, but it was removed a few years ago because it is against EU Law to discriminate based on age. So I assume the same applies in other EU countries, including Poland. $\endgroup$ Nov 19 '19 at 7:55
  • $\begingroup$ I was told that age limitation was lifted off in Poland due to very few (too few) people applying for each bi-yearly application period. Your comment (about discrimination) is a very good shot to consider on the other hand. But, then it would not explain why current period's end time for application has already been extended two times. Thus, I assume that a very limited number of people applying here in Poland can again be at stake. $\endgroup$
    – trejder
    Nov 19 '19 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ For the USA it is 30 or under, that is before 31. $\endgroup$
    – Max Power
    Oct 14 '20 at 0:35

I think that a lit bit technical knowledge is required to at least think of being an ATC because imagine a “mayday” situation. The ATC has to plan everything according to it and this is the point where technical knowledge comes really handy.

Secondly it isn’t necessary that doing five tasks together at the same time makes you suitable for an ATC because there can be no room for error and being one is not as easy as one may think.

Also,Age won’t be a limiting factor but maybe you should think about your kids as well,being an ATC would require lots of training hours and after that maybe 6-8 hours of shifts per day that would stress her out mentally and physically which may have some effects on the upbringing of your kids. If you think that her job is necessary for your financial requirements then you could try but let it not affect your kids(that is the worst thing specially if they are about to be teenagers).


in the Netherlands, LVNL will not hire anyone over the age of 30 (this used to be 25 until some years ago).

It's listed as the very first sentence on their website about how to get a job as a controller.

There are also strict medical requirements basically the same as those for a PPL class medical.

This is in no small part because there's a 5+ year paid for education prior to becoming a controller and the agency of course wants to get their investment back. And if you're much older you're likely to not be able to work the high stress job long enough for that to happen, it's that simple (as was explained to me by a recruiter when I asked about the age restrictions years ago).

  • $\begingroup$ Do you have a source to confirm the fact that age limitation still is in force in Netherlands? It would contradict comment given to the other answer (about age limitation lifted off across the whole UE due to discrimination). Netherlands is still part of the UE as far as I remember! :> $\endgroup$
    – trejder
    Nov 19 '19 at 21:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @trejder I just checked their website and the 30 year age limitation is still there. $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Nov 19 '19 at 22:45

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