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Air Marshal Requirements and Education

Federal air marshals have a big job: aircraft and national transportation security.

air marshal standing outside airplane at airport

Interested in becoming a federal air marshal? You’d better like the aisle seat.

Referred to as “quiet professionals” in the skies, a federal air marshal’s primary role is to protect passengers and crews on domestic and international flights from crime and acts of terrorism. If you don’t mind traveling frequently, this could be the career for you.

What You’ll Do as an Air Marshal

Federal air marshals—the primary law enforcement entity in the TSA*—are responsible for aircraft security as well as national security related to transportation and the country’s critical infrastructure.

The job has evolved in recent years to include staffing several positions at different agencies including:

Air marshals have the highest firearm qualification standards of all law enforcement agencies and are considered some of the best marksmen in law enforcement. According to the TSA, federal air marshals fly 15 days a month and 181 days a year, and spend five hours a day and 900 hours a year in aircrafts.

*The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and directs all TSA law enforcement agencies including, the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), the TSA National Explosives Detection Canine Program and the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program.

Federal Air Marshal Degree Requirements

You’ll need to have at least a bachelor’s degree and one year of specialized work experience equivalent to the FV-G level.

The experience can include:

  • Conducting criminal investigations
  • Performing inspections to determine compliance with laws and regulations affecting aviation
  • Developing or implementing policies to do with aviation security
  • Providing security risk assessment, threat, or vulnerability related to aviation security

A federal air marshal career is competitive so earning an advanced degree can set you apart. Completion of a doctoral degree or three full academic years of graduate education in criminal justice, public administration, police science, law, or aviation management doesn’t guarantee some air marshal requirements will be waived, but it’s a possibility.

Air Marshal Requirements for the Job

Besides earning a degree, you’ll need to fulfill a number of other requirements:

  • Hold U.S. citizenship
  • Be 37 years old or younger upon appointment
  • Meet physical, health, and medical requirements

U.S. Air Marshal Instruction

If you land a job as an air marshal, employment begins with two seven-week courses at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center site in Artesia, N.M. or at the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) academy in Atlantic City, N.J.

The instruction includes marksmanship, physical training, and critical scenarios air marshals may encounter on the job. After successful completion of the courses, an air marshal may be assigned to one of the 21 national field offices or one of the airport-based offices.

Federal Air Marshal Salary and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics, the median national annual salary for federal marshals, who are categorized under police and sheriffs, is $65,790.

Budget cuts have contributed to a smaller federal air marshal force in recent years which means a law enforcement degree can be beneficial in a competitive job market.

Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience, and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.