Aircraft Dispatcher

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Aircraft Dispatcher

Education and Training Some college education and certification

Salary Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Aircraft dispatchers, who are also called flight superintendents, schedule flights for airlines and make sure all Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations are followed. They draw up flight plans and confer with pilots and flight engineers to determine that flights can be made safely. Dispatchers also maintain contact with crews after they are airborne to keep them advised of weather conditions, alternate landing plans, and necessary changes in altitude.

When drawing up flight plans, aircraft dispatchers check weather conditions and the amount of fuel to be loaded; determine the best routes and altitudes for flights; and select alternative landing sites if bad weather occurs. Dispatchers also examine mechanics' reports to make certain required maintenance has been completed.

If for any reason dispatchers or pilots decide that flights cannot be made, dispatchers must notify the passengers and crews and arrange for alternate flights. They also keep records of the availability of aircraft and equipment, weight of cargo, and the amount of time flown by each plane and each crew member.

Dispatchers may be in contact with as many as twelve planes at one time and must be able to coordinate action should emergencies arise. If any plans are changed, dispatchers must contact the dispatch centers at destination airports.

Dispatchers generally work for large airlines and are usually aided by assistant dispatchers, who help gather weather information.

Education and Training Requirements

High school diplomas are required. Many airlines prefer to hire applicants who have attended college for at least two years. Courses in mathematics, physics and meteorology can be useful. Flying experience and work history with airlines can be important when searching for employment.

Aircraft dispatchers must take FAA exams to become certified. To qualify for the exams, applicants must have 1) worked for a year or more under the supervision of experienced and certified dispatchers; 2) completed FAA-approved courses at airline schools or training centers; or 3) spent two of the preceding three years in commercial or military air traffic control. Written tests cover such subjects as federal aviation regulations, weather analysis, air navigational facilities, radio procedures, and airport and airway traffic procedures. Oral tests determine applicants' ability to interpret weather information and demonstrate knowledge of airline routes, navigational facilities, and landing and cruising speeds of aircraft.

Aircraft dispatchers must take continuing education courses at special training centers. At least once a year they are tested on new procedures and technology. In addition, they must "fly on the line" as observers for at least five hours each year.

Most aircraft dispatchers are former assistant dispatchers. Assistant dispatchers do not always have to be certified, but they must have had at least two years of college or two years of experience in ground or flight operations in jobs such as dispatch clerk or communications clerk.

Getting the Job

Job seekers can apply directly to airports or airlines for such positions as air traffic controller, dispatch clerk, radio operator, or meteorologist. Almost all dispatchers and assistant dispatchers have been promoted from these jobs. Many major airlines only hire dispatchers who have moved up within their own ranks.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Dispatchers can be promoted to such positions as chief flight dispatcher, flight dispatch manager, flight supervisor, chief flight supervisor, and superintendent of flight control. Advancement can be slow because the field is small and few vacancies occur.

The employment outlook for aircraft dispatchers is only fair through 2014. Although the airline industry continues to grow, improved communications equipment has increased productivity. Openings occur when experienced dispatchers retire or leave the field.

Working Conditions

Dispatchers are responsible not only for the lives of thousands of people but also for the safety of extremely valuable equipment. They must gather and analyze highly detailed information and make many decisions. Congestion at many airports has made the jobs of aircraft dispatchers more demanding. They must be able to work well with others and remain calm during emergencies.

Most dispatchers work rotating cycles of eight-hour day, evening, and night shifts. Overtime may be required. Many dispatchers belong to unions.

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary widely, depending on the size of airlines, location and size of airports, dispatchers' experience, and work schedules. In 2004 some smaller carriers offered beginning salaries around $20,000 per year. Meanwhile, some dispatchers at major airlines—most of whom had worked for those airlines for at least fifteen years—earned more than $100,000 per year. Over the next decade, salaries may be affected by the introduction of a two-tiered wage system: to compete with smaller, nonunion airlines, the major airlines have reduced their starting salaries for new employees.

Where to Go for More Information

Airline Dispatchers Federation
2020 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 821
Washington, DC 20006
(800) 676-2685

Air Transport Association of America
1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 1100
Washington, DC 20004-1707
(202) 626-4000

Dispatchers usually receive paid sick leave and vacations, life and health insurance, and retirement benefits. In addition, they and their families may receive some free air transportation from their employers. They may also receive reduced fares on other airlines.