How to Become an Air Marshal – In 8 Steps

If you’re interested in protecting others while maintaining your composure in a high-stress, high-risk environment, becoming an air marshal may be an excellent career choice.

Air Marshal

Air marshals work for the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), a segment of the Transportation Security Administration under the Department of Homeland Security.

FAMS was launched in 1961 to protect citizens and travelers from hijackers.

Following 9/11, the U.S. government increased aviation security, and FAMS was transferred to the new Department of Homeland Security.

Keep reading to learn more about how to become an air marshal!

Job Description

Air marshals, or sky marshals, are highly skilled law enforcement professionals who protect civil aircraft crew members and passengers from security threats before, during, and after flights.

Air marshals are responsible for boarding international and domestic flights to ensure the safety of American passengers and aviators.

Many countries have similar agents who protect their citizens and passengers on commercial aircraft.

An air marshal’s most common duties include the following:

  • Collaborating with various law enforcement agencies, including the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, to protect citizens and arrest terrorists before they act.
  • Evaluating flight environments for suspicious activity.
  • Obtaining and executing arrest warrants.
  • Resolving emergencies and criminal activities on board an aircraft.
  • Testifying in court against criminals.


Glassdoor reports that the median annual air marshal salary is approximately $103,000.

Comparatively, the median national salary for all occupations is $61,900.

A sky marshal’s median salary is considerably higher due to the hazardous conditions of being in the flight security sector.

In addition to the base salary above six figures, air marshals enjoy extensive benefits like considerable vision, dental, and overall medical insurance since they are constantly in stressful environments.

Also, the U.S. government offers paid time off, retirement benefits, employment assistance programs, and in-house therapists.

Unfortunately, air marshals are often subjected to highly stressful situations that involve seeing humans at their worst, which can take a toll on even the most mentally tough individuals.

Salary Information by State

State Employed Avg. Annual Salary Avg. Hourly Pay Top 10% Annual Salary Bottom 10% Annual Salary
New Jersey310$87,460$42.05$92,390$75,150
New York1,460$76,290$36.68$119,140$53,470

Annual Average Salary: Top 10 States

The top earning state in the field is Virginia, where the average salary is $88,480.

These are the top 10 earning states in the field:

  • Virginia - $88,480
  • New Jersey - $87,460
  • New York - $76,290
  • Illinois - $75,770
  • Florida - $74,200
  • Texas - $73,730
  • Georgia - $57,610
  • Tennessee - $56,900
  • Pennsylvania - $56,470
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Transit and Railroad Police, OCC Code 33-3052, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become an Air Marshal: Step-by-Step

Many steps are required to become an air marshal, including:

Step One: Ensure You Meet Eligibility Requirements

To qualify to become an air marshal, all applicants must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a current U.S. citizen.
  • Be between 21 and 36 years old.
  • Earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college (in any field) or have three years of relevant experience.
  • Hold a valid driver’s license.

Step Two: Submit an Application

If you meet these requirements, the next step is to apply through USAJOB, the Federal Government’s employment site, or the TSA’s careers page.

Step Three: Complete the Federal Air Marshal Assessment Battery Test

Those who are qualified to enter the field must next take the FAB (Federal Assessment Battery) test, a computer-based examination evaluating the applicant’s situational judgment, logical reasoning, and writing skills.

Step Four: Enroll in a Panel Interview

Those who pass the FAB exam are invited to a local FAMS field office for a panel interview.

Like with any position, the goal of the interview is for the candidate to impress the hiring panel in person.

The interviewers fire situational questions at the candidates to determine if their composure, judgment, and answers equate to the role.

Step Five: Pass the Physical Training Assessment

The Physical Training Assessment (PTA) portion of the process analyzes the candidate’s ability to partake in strenuous physical activity without succumbing to injury.

The candidate must be successful at passing four areas administered by a physical fitness coordinator: a 1.5-mile run, push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups.

Step Six: Pass a Background Check

Once the PTA determines you are physically fit to work in this capacity, you must attend one additional interview at the field office to confirm your professional and personal background.

The process requires fingerprinting and a polygraph examination to ensure you’re telling the truth while uncovering potential discrepancies in your application and interview.

Step Seven: Complete a Medical Examination

One of the last steps of the process is to undergo a medical examination.

This is performed by the local field office’s medical personnel, who ensure your organs are functioning optimally by tracking your vitals.

The medical staff may also conduct a drug screening test.

This extensive screening process is necessary to ensure you are well-rounded enough and truthful with your background information to fulfill the position requirements.

If you pass the medical exam, you will receive an offer for conditional employment.

Step Eight: Finish the Federal Air Marshal Training Program (FAMTP)

The final and most critical step in the process is to complete the 16-week, highly intensive FAMTP course that prepares candidates for air marshal active duty.

The coursework covers a practical pistol course, firearms training, and practical exercise performance requirements.

The program comprises two stages:

  • 35-day basic course at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in New Mexico.
  • Advanced 43-day course at the FAMS Training Center in New Jersey.

Once this entire process is complete, you will officially become an air marshal and will be assigned a location or location by the U.S. Government.


Although sky marshal candidates can qualify for a position with three years of relevant experience, the U.S. Government typically prefers candidates who hold a college degree.

In some instances, a combination of experience and education is required.

The TSA seeks those with progressively responsible experience that requires professionals to communicate effectively, organize and plan work, and analyze various problems.

For those looking to eventually move into a management role, a bachelor’s degree is required.

The ideal degrees for budding sky marshals include aviation business administration, criminal justice, homeland security, and law.

The education process to become an air marshal is the same as any other degree.

First, you must graduate high school with a GPA that meets the school’s requirements.

Simultaneously, you must find a school that offers law enforcement-focused majors that will help propel the acceptance process into the air marshal program.

Once the prerequisite work is complete, you must finish your bachelor’s degree with acceptable grades.

The last step is to fulfill all requirements that help you be admitted into the FAMTP.

The 16-week air marshal program begins in Artesia, New Mexico, at the Federal Training Center.

This part of the program focuses on classroom instruction, marksmanship, and physical fitness.

The second section of the training is in Atlantic City, New Jersey, at the Federal Air Marshal Service Training Center. Budding sky marshals take advanced weapons training.

Candidates also learn defensive techniques, aircraft safety protocols, and international law.

A critical aspect of the job is handling a firearm, so candidates must earn high marksmanship scores throughout the program.

Licensing and Certification

Licensing and certification are not required to become an air marshal.

However, candidates must complete the 16-week training program which is difficult and cutthroat due to the safety air marshals provide in neutralizing threats in the sky.

Sky marshals are the best firearm marksmen in U.S. law enforcement, which can be a major challenge in the training program for those who don’t possess this skill set.

A bachelor’s degree is typically required to become an air marshal and is required for those who seek advanced positions within the department.

Job Outlook

The number of operating air marshals is not public information due to homeland security confidentiality.

However, as an increasing number of domestic and international commercial flights ensues due to a greater desire to travel, the number of sky marshals needed also grows.

With recent budget cuts across the Homeland Security Department, the number of sky marshals has decreased but is expected to bounce back as the travel sector grows.

Should You Become an Air Marshal?

Overall Satisfaction

The highly competitive nature of this profession proves that overall job satisfaction is high.

Sky marshals spend 15 days per month, 181 days per year, and five hours per day (around 900 hours per year) on aircraft, so traveling is constant.

For those with families, this can be challenging, but younger marshals with few home commitments can have a distinguished career.

Also, the median pay is significantly higher than the national average, and job security and future outlook are generally high.

Furthermore, the benefits of being a government employee are extensive.

On the downside, regularly neutralizing threats can be stressful; the competition to become a marshal is fierce, and extensive education is required.

Those who are made for the academic world may look for other law enforcement opportunities.

Average Salary

The median U.S. air marshal salary of $103,000 is approximately 60% higher than the national average of $62,000.

This is because air marshals continually work in a hazardous environment.

Job Growth Outlook

Although recent budget cuts have decreased the number of operating air marshals, with the travel sector continuing to grow at a rapid pace, the number of sky marshals protecting the air and airports will also grow commensurately.

Therefore, marshals can expect an excellent level of job security and future growth.

Education Duration

The required education duration to become an air marshal is approximately four years to earn a bachelor’s degree plus a 16-week training program.

The air marshal field is highly competitive, so earning a graduate degree will set you apart from the competition.

It’s important to note that three academic years of graduate education or a doctoral degree in aviation management, law, police science, public administration, or criminal justice doesn’t guarantee acceptance into the program.

Personal Skills Needed

To pass the extensive air marshal candidate requirements and be successful on the job, many personal skills are necessary, such as:

  • Communication – air marshals must boast excellent communication and customer service skills to calmly speak to airline passengers when a threat occurs on the plane. These professionals must also report their findings to the court and their superiors using concise and clear language.
  • Empathy – these law enforcement professionals are accountable for passenger safety and must be willing to save lives while on the clock.
  • Leadership – air marshals must guide crew and passengers if a security threat arises.
  • Observational skills – sky marshals must sense potential threats and quickly resolve them while keeping passengers calm. Also, air marshals need to know when a threat is minor and can be managed without conflict.
  • Physically fit – a high level of fitness must be maintained to ensure the physical demands of the job are enforced.
  • Strong judgment – since sky marshals are federal law enforcement officers, they must analyze different situations to implement the best resolution.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to go to school to become an air marshal?

The air marshal-specific training program is a 16-week comprehensive course that prepares candidates to enter the field and manage a host of air threat situations.

In addition to this program, buddy sky marshals must also hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, preferably in a law enforcement-focused field, like criminal justice.

A standard bachelor’s degree takes at least four years with longer requirements due to an internship requirement.

Accelerated programs can take as little as three years.

How much money does an air marshal make per year?

The median income for an air marshal is $103,000, which is considerably more than the national average of $61,900 due to the hazardous environment and situations of these professionals.

Additional benefits include excellent medical coverage, employee assistance, in-house therapists, and retirement funding.

What skills do you need to have to be an air marshal?

Air marshals are subjected to the most extensive background checks including polygraph tests and fingerprinting, as well as a rigorous 16-week training program on top of a bachelor’s degree.

In addition to the skills gained throughout the process, sky marshals must possess communication, empathy, leadership, observational, physical fitness, and strong judgment skills.

Are air marshals in high demand?

The scope and size of the Federal Air Marshals program have ebbed and flowed throughout its history.

The number of air marshals serving the U.S. is not public information, so it’s challenging to assess the current demand and future growth.

However, due to the frequency and number of commercial flights increasing, the TSA is likely to employ more sky marshals in the future to keep airports and flights safe from threats.

Government jobs also tend to be more stable than the private sector, so job security is a major advantage when becoming an air marshal.

What kind of education do you need to become an air marshal?

The Government requires a bachelor’s degree to become an air marshal unless you have three or more years of related experience.

Those seeking advanced management positions within the department must hold a bachelor’s degree and relevant experience as an air marshal.

All candidates must complete the 16-week FAMTP program, regardless of their future aspirations.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

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