The Air Up There Podcast
Be ATC: A Fulfilling Career in Air Traffic Control

Season 6, Episode 13

Becoming an air traffic controller is a rewarding profession that plays a vital role in ensuring the safety and efficiency of our airspace. If you're curious about the journey to becoming a controller, don't miss this episode featuring the FAA’s Jose Castellanos, a controller at the San Juan tower in Puerto Rico.

Jose shares how he discovered his passion for aviation after being accepted into the FAA's Minority Serving Institutions internship program. He discusses his top safety priorities, continuous learning strategies, and valuable advice for aspiring controllers. He also demonstrates "phraseology," the specialized language used by controllers to communicate with pilots.

With advanced training opportunities and the chance to make an impact, a career in air traffic control is truly fulfilling. If you think you have what it takes to excel in this specialized and skilled profession, visit to learn more about the application process before our next hiring window.

Share this episode with your network – you never know who might find inspiration to explore a fulfilling career path they hadn't considered before.

Meet Our Guest:  
Jose Castellanos is a Certified Professional Controller at the San Juan Tower in Puerto Rico and formerly an intern with the Minority Serving Institutions internship program.  

Disclaimer: Reference in this podcast to any specific commercial product, process, service, manufacturer, company, or trademark does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the U.S. government, Department of Transportation, or Federal Aviation Administration. As an agency of the U.S. government, the FAA cannot endorse or appear to endorse any specific product or service. 

Be ATC: A Fulfilling Career in Air Traffic Control
Be ATC: A Fulfilling Career in Air Traffic Control
Audio file

Vishal Ramudamu: What sparked your interest in air traffic control?

Jose Castellanos: I think when I went up to visit the Miami tower, because before then I didn't have any interest, I guess you could say, in air traffic control. I didn't think I'd make this my career growing up. But when I initially went up to the tower during my internship with Miami, just seeing them work and seeing the traffic flow and stuff like that, it really interested me. I thought this could be a very fulfilling career field. 

Vishal Ramudamu: That’s Jose Castellanos, an FAA air traffic controller who works in the San Juan tower in Puerto Rico.  

Lucy Jabbour: And he is our guest. We’re your hosts. I’m Lucy Jabbour. 

Vishal Ramudamu: And I’m Vishal Ramudamu - and this is The Air Up There!

Various People: This is your captain speaking. The feeling I get when I’m flying; you get an adrenaline rush. Seeing something fly is awesome. It’s incredible to be able to fly. Flying airplanes is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I get so excited about aviation, aeronautics, space, engineering, and tech. Like star gazing and just wondering what it would be like to be up there. I just fell in love with it. Stick with your passion and pursue it. Just know you can do it. There is not a room, there is not a cockpit, there is not a place that you don’t belong. There’s certainly a place for everybody in aerospace.

Vishal Ramudamu: Air traffic controllers are the heroes of our skies, working on the front lines to ensure that pilots, flight crews, and passengers arrive and depart safely from our nations’ airports.

Lucy Jabbour: Air traffic controllers are specialized and skilled professionals that are critical to the FAA’s mission to maintain the safest and most efficient airspace in the world. It’s a challenging but fulfilling career. 

Vishal Ramudamu: If you think you’re up to the challenge, go to and search “beatc,” - that’s B-E A-T-C - to learn more about, eligibility, the application process, and how to prepare.

Lucy Jabbour: What do you love most about being an air traffic controller?

Jose Castellanos: For me, I think it's this sense of fulfillment. I think it's a very fulfilling career. Everyday you're going in there and you're making a difference. You're getting the passengers where they need to be safely and efficiently. And I think for me, also the, being in such like a specific and unique career field. Out of out of the millions of Americans in the workforce, there's only maybe 12,000 of us,13,000 of us. It's a very niche field. It's, you know, highly specialized, highly trained group of individuals.

Lucy Jabbour: Jose, what was your introduction to aviation? Like, was it a program? Like somebody at school? Was it a family member?

Jose Castellanos: I think it was just by chance. When I was in... at university studying I was looking for internships to do over the summer. And I was throwing applications often right, and I looked at, at the FAA is post on our on our internship page called Handshake. They were looking for various, various majors to go into the program, and one of them was engineering. So, I said, you know what? Why not give it a shot? So, I sent in my application and I was picked up for the internship program. Once I got to the to the station in Miami I got to meet everyone in the aviation field. And from there, the ball started rolling on my interest in aviation. 

Lucy Jabbour: What was your biggest take away from it? The Minority Serving Institutions internship program here at the FAA? 

Jose Castellanos: Yeah, the biggest takeaways was definitely the networking that you can get. Also, the various fields within the FAA. It's not just air traffic control, there's loads and loads of other fields within the FAA. There's medical stuff, engineering, management stuff, HR, you know, there's so many different avenues and routes that you can take within the FAA. And I think that was a big eye opener.

Lucy Jabbour: Where are you right now in your air traffic control career? I think one thing people don't realize when they start kind of looking at it is there is a path there. Like, it does take some time to kind of work your way through.

Jose Castellanos: Today, I am a certified professional controller. So, I'm able to work the positions on my own at San Juan tower, specifically. Most of us start at the same level. So, you would either start on the off-the-street bid, which is just an open bid to the public. That's where I started. And then from there you start with this entrance exam. And then based on how you score on there, they'll choose their applicants. And then the next step in the process is, you start with your security clearances, your medical clearances. Also, you take a personality test, which is the MMPI. And then from there, once you clear all of those, you'll get a tentative offer letter, to start your training at, in Oklahoma. Pass the academy and then from there, you'll choose where you go and then yeah, you're on your way to a facility and you start training at your respective facility.

Vishal Ramudamu: Jose, there's so many safety elements that go into being an air traffic controller. What is one that's always top of mind for you?

Jose Castellanos: Number one safety element is definitely separating aircraft and traffic advisories. Giving traffic calls. Making sure the pilots in your airspace know about each other. Make sure they have them in sight if they're flying visually and everyone knows what's going on in your in your airspace.

Vishal Ramudamu: How do you personally stay updated and continue learning in air traffic?

Jose Castellanos: Every day you learn something new. You're always... even when you get checked out and you're certified, you're always learning. We have ongoing trainings that we do every couple of months up there to stay current. And also, just open dialogue in the in the tower cab between controllers. If someone has a question, we'll talk about it. We'll pull up our book. We'll read the section and we'll say, hey, you know, I interpreted it this way. What do you think? Just open dialogue. Open conversation. Yeah, if anyone has a question, we'll just address it.

Lucy Jabbour: Can you lay like a little phraseology on us? 

Jose Castellanos: Yeah, we could do, we could work on our traffic calls. That's one of the important things. So, if there's two aircrafts in your in your airspace, you're gonna make a traffic call about them. The way a traffic call works is you say their callsign. You know, November 1-2-3, Alpha Bravo, traffic at your three o'clock. So, their relative clock position to what they're looking at. So 12 o'clock, three o'clock. Traffic at your three o'clock, and the distance between the two aircrafts, so two miles. And you tell them where that aircraft is headed, moving westbound. And then you'll tell them the altitude at 600 feet, and then the type of aircraft, so Caravan. Okay, so you'll say 1-2-3 Alpha Bravo traffic at your two o'clock, three miles west, minus 600 feet, Caravan. There's other ways of saying it, you know. It's not like a “set in stone” way of saying it, but if you stick to a structure, it’ll just become second nature to you.

Lucy Jabbour: Why did you choose to work at the Puerto Rico tower?

Jose Castellanos: It was, it was a variety of factors that took into account when it came time to choosing a facility. The main factor was level seven tower, which is the highest level of tower you can get to out of the academy. It goes from a level four to a level twelve. So, we’re kind of like in the middle a little bit. Level seven, like middle lower-ish. Another factor is was that it was close to home. I come from Miami. So, it's a quick two hour, two-and-a-half-hour flight. And I think also having the experience from the Miami internship. San Juan is still part of the Miami district and also asking around about San Juan. Everyone had great things to say and they highly recommended it. So, that was also an important key factor in taking into account which facility I would choose.

Vishal Ramudamu: What makes the tower over there unique?

Jose Castellanos: Definitely the view from the tower. From the north side, you have the blue water, the ocean, the skyline of the buildings right on the beach. And then to the south, just behind, you have the mountain range, our El Yunque National Forest, which is the highest peak on the island. So, you kind of get the best the best of both worlds on each side. So, I would say that's a pretty unique view.

Vishal Ramudamu: Having been on the path of becoming an air traffic controller, and now experience being one. What advice would you give to anyone that's interested in pursuing air traffic control?

Jose Castellanos: My advice to someone pursuing air traffic control is definitely, it's going to sound basic, but you know, work hard, give your best shot, stay humble, and just take it day by day, you know. Every day is going to be a new day, a new learning experience. I know going through the academy is a very stressful, like, stressful environment for a lot of people. You know, many people quit their jobs to pursue this career. Many people have been waiting years, just to get this one chance. I would just take it day by day, you know. Learn something new every day. Apply what you've learned and just give it your best shot.

Be ATC PSA: Becoming an Air Traffic Controller is an opportunity to shape the future of aviation as we integrate air taxis, space vehicles and more into the airspace. With cutting-edge training and the chance to make a real impact, a career at the FAA goes beyond the clouds and into the heart of aviation's pulse. Want to make an impact? Visit and search Be ATC for updates on upcoming application opportunities.

Lucy Jabbour: Thanks for listening! For more information about today’s guest, check out Subscribe, like, follow wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss out on new episodes. Coming up, in the next episode of The Air Up There...

DaiJah Metoyer: Is flying with your feet safe? 

Jessica Cox: I think people always have that question, DaiJah, in the back of their mind. I've had amazing instructors along the way. I have an FAA certified examiner who certified me as a sport pilot. They were playing it by the books.