A flight dispatcher (also known as an aircraft dispatcher, airline dispatcher or flight operations officer) assists in planning flight paths, taking into account wind speed, storms, aircraft performance and loading, and other conditions. Some dispatchers provide a flight following service and advise pilots if conditions or paths change. They usually work in the operations or control center of the airline. In the United States and Canada, the flight dispatcher shares legal responsibility with the Commander (joint responsibility dispatch system).
Dispatchers usually have operational control, which gives them authority to divert, delay or cancel a flight at any given time. Legal requirements known as "14 CFR PART 135" govern dispatch release in the USA. After the release of a flight (in a joint responsibility environment) the dispatcher uses sophisticated software tools to monitor the flight's progress and advises the flight crew of any circumstances that might affect flight safety. Shared responsibility adds a layer of checks and balances to aircraft operation and greatly improves safety.
JAR OPS 1 did not mandate the use of an operational control system with flight dispatchers/joint responsibility/flight watch. The pan-European agency EASA has not yet issued a requirement mandating the use of such an operational control system either. It is expected that EASA OPS and EASA FCL will be published in 2006 which will outline EASA's position on the issue as well as any requirements imposed on European airline operators.
A dispatcher typically must be licensed by the aviation authority of that country. In order to obtain the licence, the candidate must demonstrate extensive knowledge of meteorology and aviation in general, to a level comparable to the holder of an airline transport pilot license.
Licensed flight dispatchers usually have to demonstrate extensive aviation knowledge comparable to that of Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) holders. The FAA ATPL and the FAA Dispatcher written exams are exactly the same. For airlines operating under 14 CFR PART 135, the dispatching duties and responsibilities are actually designated to flight followers. The main difference between a flight dispatcher and a flight follower is that latter does not share legal responsibility for the operation of a flight. Also, followers are not required to attain a flight dispatcher's license, although they are usually encouraged to do so.
Many countries issue licenses which are based on ICAO Annex 1 and 6 as well as ICAO DOC 7192 D3. Unfortunately not all countries have adopted a mandatory license and joint responsibility/flight watch operational control systems. The FAA has mandated the use of flight dispatchers/joint responsibility/flight watch since the "Civil Aeronautic Act" was passed in 1938. Canada has adopted a similar approach in the wake of a plane crash in Dryden, Ontario in 1989. Due to several more accidents the FAA is lobbying for tighter regulations from the ICAO.
Flight dispatchers are legally 50% responsible for the safety of every flight they dispatch. The pilot in command of the flight holds responsibility for the other 50%. A flight dispatcher has the legal authority to refuse to dispatch a flight if safety is in any way in question, as does the pilot in command. This is known as 'Co-Authority Dispatch'. Because commercial decision making in an airline can conflict with the safety of a flight, a flight dispatcher's responsibilities are kept separate from the commercial aspects of an airline's operation, and as such the profession is primarily focused on the safety of a flight; all other duties are secondary.
Flight dispatchers in a typical airline are generally responsible for overseeing anywhere from 10 to 20 flights simultaneously, and are constantly planning new flights while monitoring current ones. Flight dispatchers are expected to have a big picture view of weather conditions, aircraft status, fuel planning, and other operational aspects of maintaining smooth airline operations. Because of the constantly changing nature of airline operations, flight dispatchers experience a high level of stress in the workplace, as they balance operational constraints and pressures with the overriding safety mandate of the job. As flight dispatchers are the 'unseen crew member' in an airline, pay is generally much lower than that of pilots, despite being required to have the same knowledge of aircraft systems, operations, weather and air law that a commercial pilot has. Coupled with the high stress of the job, this results in a high burnout rate among dispatchers and a similar high turnover rate in most dispatch offices in airlines.
Often (especially in larger airlines) a dispatcher will be assisted by a load planner. Load planners have the same license as a flight dispatcher. They must carefully plan the loading of the aircraft and do the weight and balance calculations for the aircraft. In some cargo aircraft, they have to visually inspect the loading, making sure it has been done in accordance with their instructions. When a load planner is on board the airplane as a member of the crew, he or she will be in charge of planning, loading, and offloading the cargo for the duration of the flight, and is known as loadmaster.
In some jurisdictions of the US, similar duties and responsibilities are designated to flight followers. The main difference between the aircraft dispatcher and the flight follower is that the latter does not share legal responsibility for the operation of a flight. During the flight, the dispatcher is required to monitor and advise the crew of changes affecting safety of flight. In flight following, ultimate responsibility and operational control of the flight rests with the Pilot in command and Director of Operations (DO). Flight followers work for the Director of Operations and are tasked with carrying out operational control functions. Flight followers are not required to attain a flight dispatcher's license, although they are usually encouraged to do so.
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- International Federation of Air Line Dispatchers’ Associations
- European Federation of Air Line Dispatchers’ Associations
- Airline Dispatchers Federation
- Canadian Airline Dispatchers Association
- Scandinavian Airline Dispatchers' Association Denmark
- German Airline Dispatchers' Association
- Icelandic Airline Dispatcher Association
- Polish Airline Dispatchers Association
- Swiss Airline Dispatchers' Assocition
- Article: What exactly does an airline dispatcher do?, USA Today
- Turkish Flight Dispatchers Association