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Flight Dispatcher

The IOC employs Dispatchers to conduct key functions. In the US system, Flight Dispatchers are licensed airmen under FAA regulations and ‘[exercise] responsibility with the Pilot in Command in the operational control of a flight’.5 Thus, legal responsibility for the conduct of a flight rests between the Captain (sometimes referred to as Commander) and the Dispatcher. Airlines in some non-US States subscribe to this system, either equipping their IOC with FAA licensed Dispatchers, or recognising their Dispatchers as holding a national dispatch licence within their own State jurisdiction, but not to the level of the FAA licence. Other States (e.g., Australia/New Zealand) do not require Dispatchers to hold a licence at all. For a more complete description of the Flight Dispatcher tasks and processes, see Kim (2018).6


Whatever the regulatory basis, the tasks conducted within a dispatch function including flight planning, aircraft weight and balance, flight dispatch, and flight following (or monitoring), are assigned to the Dispatcher, whether that person is licensed or not, as indicated above. Whatever the system in use, the roles of the Dispatcher are instrumental within the IOC environment to inform and rectify problems concerning limitations due to aircraft performance, any other operational restrictions, or potential disruptions to schedule.


The responsibilities of the Dispatcher encompass many key aspects in relation to the airline’s operations. First the role is responsible for the flightplanning process, that is the preparation and transmission of optimal, fuel-efficient plans taking into account efficient and expeditious planning of the route to be flown, extended twin engine operations (ETOPS) requirements, considerations for weather at any stage of the operation, equipment shortages or issues, airport conditions at departure, en-route and arrival ports, and any airspace problems such as airspace closures (e.g., due to military, resource issues, or political influence), or issues otherwise affecting flights. Second, the role is responsible for flight following whereby a monitoring process is employed to watch over each flight’s progression, in particular noting, and advising of, any significant changes as a result of АТС requirements, or changes to weather conditions en route or at the destination, which may in turn alter the state of the fuel situation on board. This really implies a continuous risk- assessment process, constantly looking for signs of potential disruption to what may be an otherwise routine flight stage. Any changes to the above factors may require some form of intervention by the Dispatcher, requiring communication to one or more aircraft affected or likely to become affected, or to АТС, or airports, and then taking some form of positive action (such as instigating or concurring with a decision to divert a flight) as required.


A person involved in the Dispatch function needs excellent operational knowledge. This includes comprehensive knowledge of the regulatory framework within which the airline industry operates. It also requires thorough understanding of crucial sources of information such as the company’s policies and procedures, sets of operating manuals (e.g., aircraft performance), methods for denoting operating limitations or variances (e.g., minimum equipment lists (MELs) and configuration deviation lists (CDLs)), crew contracts and agreements in place (e.g., a fatigue risk-management system (FRMS) for fatigue management), АТС rules and procedures, and so forth. In the US, the licensed Dispatcher must be fully cognisant of the pertinent Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) governing the operation of flights. The aeronautical knowledge base extends to having an extensive familiarity and understanding of weather phenomena, and the various and numerous methods, protocols and symbolisms used in providing meteorological warnings and advice (e.g., SIGMETS, PIREPS, TAFORS - see Table of Common Abbreviations). In addition, knowledge and current awareness of any NOTAMs (notice to airmen) likely to impact airspace on the planned route, or airport facilities (such as, for example, runway length, airport works in progress, obstructions, change of tower hours), may be a source of concern, initiating discussions and actions similar to the previous description. Subject to the arrangements applying in the airline, the Dispatcher may also negotiate holding times, organise route clearances or permissions to operate, and arrange extensions of service, but these tasks may also fall under the control of the airline’s staff at the airport.


Besides a mathematical and somewhat scientific mind to understand the principles involved in the task, the Dispatcher, similar to the Operations Controller, needs to demonstrate high levels of rational and intuitive thinking to manage processes appropriately and completely. The role calls for an excellent communicator at all levels across the industry, as at one moment liaison may be with an airport manager, the next negotiating with АТС, and then maybe having to brief and discuss possible offloads, fuel figures or diversion strategies with Senior Operating Captains. To do all this, the role also demands high-level interpersonal skills and an ability to handle pressure while openly displaying calmness and control. The ability to interact, negotiate, influence and at times accept advice from, other key functional areas of the IOC such as Meteorology, Maintenance, Load Control, Freight and Commercial areas, for example, is crucial.

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