Until I was deep into the world of aviation, I had never even heard of flight dispatchers. Now I’m studying to become one.
I suspect that many of you are like I was: maybe you’ve never heard of the Dispatcher, or only have a very vague idea of what the dispatcher does. Well, sit back and let me tell you about these fine men and women and the work they do.
In a nutshell, the Flight Dispatcher does all the background work for the flight. They are jointly responsible with the captain for the safe operation of the flight. They must ensure that all details, from weight to fuel to routing to crew times, are within the boundaries of safety and legality. Part 121 and Part 135 are the framework within which dispatchers must work, and they spell out very specific requirements for operating commercial airplanes.
The dispatcher checks the weather at the departure, destination, and alternate airports, and checks all known weather along the route of flight. He checks the runway configuration and crunches numbers and performance charts to make sure the plane can take off and land safely at a planned airport. The dispatcher also checks the weight and balance, and makes certain that the weight of the aircraft at departure and landing is within specified limits. The dispatcher is also responsible for calculating fuel burn and making sure that the airplane has enough fuel to complete the flight with reserves. We want to avoid another Gimli Glider.
In addition to all that, the dispatcher reviews the maintenance logs of the aircraft and compares them to the Minimum Equipment List (MEL) to ensure that the aircraft is safe and legal to fly, and to be sure that there are no mechanical restrictions to how the flight may be operated*.
Once the flight is launched, the dispatcher follows along, communicating via text and voice with the crew about changes in weather, routing, or mechanical status. In an emergency, the dispatcher and the flight crew work together to find alternate airports and deal with the situation. The dispatcher may also communicate with the airline’s maintenance departments and ground crews as needed. The dispatcher can talk to ATC resources and even declare an emergency for the crew if he believes it necessary.
Being an aircraft dispatcher is fast-paced and dynamic. To be a successful dispatcher you have to be smart and capable of dealing with enormous pressure and stress. You must be capable of changing all your plans on the fly, and you must be able to prioritize well. You must be attentive to detail and you must work well with others.
For all the responsibilities they shoulder and all the unrecognized work they do, I propose we take a day and appreciate the complex work of the flight dispatcher. Flying a bank of computers may not be as glamorous and sexy as flying a 747, but without the hard work and dedication of these professionals our air transportation system would have one less fail-safe. HUZZAH for dispatchers!
*For example, a faulty A/C pack may restrict operations to FL240 and below.