Crucial Role of an FAA Aircraft Dispatcher

For most people in general public would not know that an airline dispatcher exists.

For people outside the airline industry the crucial role of an aircraft dispatcher is unknown. So, here is what they do. Approximately over 2,000 U.S.dispatchers play a major role in keeping pilots from flying into turbulence, volcanic ash and thunderstorms. They save them from running out of fuel or arriving at airports where runways are icy. They serve as the pilots' eyes and ears on the ground. The pilot is in charge of the aircraft, and the dispatcher is in charge of the flight.

Like mechanics and pilots, dispatchers are licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration. Their employment by major and regional airlines in the U.S. is required by law. Federal regulation created the job in 1938.

A plane never leaves the ground until both captain and dispatcher are in agreement. If a dispatcher is troubled about visibility at the destination, or a pilot doesn't like the nonfunctioning component in the cockpit, even though it is legal fly with, the flight doesn't go. When the plane is in the air -- following the flight plan the dispatcher has designed -- the dispatcher tracks it, keeping an eye on weather conditions the plane is approaching.

Dispatchers also watch the conditions at the destination airport, and the at the alternate airports where the plane could be put down in an emergency. They can order a pilot to divert or reroute the plane. When a pilot radios in that he has a sick flight attendant or an unruly passenger, the first person he speaks to is the dispatcher.

Dispatcher job can be very stressful, especially when the weather is bad. But dispatch jobs are coveted because they bring plenty of responsibility, fast-paced work that changes constantly. For some airlines they have to undergo a psychological evaluations prior being selected. Dispatchers have to attend six week initial training at a FAA-certified school, then pass a written test and an eight hour oral exam. Once they are employed by an airline, some airlines start them as assistant dispatchers, working under the guidance of a licensed dispatcher. After a year or more when they graduate to actual dispatcher duties, they must pass another FAA check. Recurrent training consists of 20 hours of classroom instructions annually and spending at least five hours observing and actual flight from the cockpit.

Dispatchers are just as knowledgeable as pilots and also are intimately familiar with aircraft-maintenance manuals and emergency checklists, meteorological charts, air-ground radio systems, the air-traffic control system and runway layouts at hundreds of airports.

Dispatchers don't wear spiffy military-style uniforms, carry fat briefcases full of charts and earn more than $200,000 a year, as do veteran pilots at the big airlines. They wear civilian clothes, work shifts in airline operations centers and earn between $25,000 and $100,000 a year, depending on seniority and overtime.

Most of the above was taken from The Wall Street Journal-written by Susan Carey Staff Reporter.