Aircraft Dispatcher History: An Evolution
Dispatchers serve as one of the most crucial component to the entire airline operation. Aircraft dispatchers are licensed airmen, certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Dispatchers must undergo extensive testing and training to earn this highly sought after certificate, and must pass both an extensive oral examination and the comprehensive written Aircraft Dispatcher test. These tests are equivalent to the Air Transport Pilot (ATP) written and oral examinations that airline pilots take as part of their licensing procedure. They are, in essence, pilots on the ground, and are as legally liable for the aircraft as is the pilot in the cockpit.
But how much do you really know about the history of the Aircraft Dispatcher? Here’s a short quiz to test your knowledge.
1) The first aircraft dispatchers were likely employees of:
a. The military
b. The Post Office
c. The airlines
d. The Treasury Department
e. None of the above
2) Early airline pilots knew exactly how to get to their destination.
3) Aircraft dispatchers were created for what reason?
b. Cost control
c. Congressional mandate
d. Navigational aid
e. All the above
4) Aircraft dispatchers and ‘flight followers’ are the same thing.
Back in the heady days of the 1920s, when people began to see airplanes as something more than an amusement, but as a viable way to cheaply move people and cargo around the country, it was as lawless as the Wild West. There were little to no federal regulations mandating policies and procedures for these emerging air carriers.
It was the norm for a pilot to just load up his aircraft with cargo, mail and passengers and take off. No flight plans, no weather information, nothing. In most instances, the pilot had a vague direction of his destination and pointed the nose of the craft in that general direction and, literally, winged it. They would use landmarks, a compass, and perhaps even the stars along the route to guide them.
It was fortuitous that the US Postal Service was beginning to establish radio stations along air transportation routes. The Air Mail Act of 1925 authorized the Post Office Department to contract with airlines to carry the mail, and these stations were built to aid those pilots by providing weather information and navigational assistance. Since most aircraft had only the most rudimentary of communications systems, they were not able to take advantage of these radio stations to their fullest benefit.
As you might imagine, the safety record for the industry was atrocious in those years. The loss of aircraft, lives and cargo (especially the US mail), due to mountains, changing weather, and power lines motivated Congress to pass the Civil Aeronautics Act in 1938. This legislation laid down strict regulations to ensure that all air carriers operated in as safe a manner as possible. The Act created an operational control structure, consisting of a system of checks and balances, which, when complied with, produced the highest level of safety possible for commercial airplane operations. It also created a new airman certification, that of an aircraft dispatcher.
The role of an aircraft dispatcher is important and complex. They are the ground-based eyes and ears for the pilot in the air. As stated earlier, regulations stemming from the CAA hold both the pilot and the dispatcher as being equally responsible for the safety of the flight. Working jointly with the pilot, the dispatcher draws up a flight plan that will allow the aircraft to arrive at its destination safely and as cost-efficiently as possible. They follow the developing weather along the route as well as at the final destination. They ensure the aircraft has all the provisions (fuel, food, etc.) needed to make the flight safely. They also track the flight to ensure it remains on course per the flight plan, keeping all ground support personnel aware of its progress.
One point to remember: flight followers are not aircraft dispatchers. These two terms are not interchangeable, even though the flight follower can perform many of the same duties as that of a dispatcher. The most glaring difference is one of legality. Flight followers do not require certification, are not held responsible for the safety of the aircraft, nor do they have a say on if the flight has been validated for take-off. That responsibility rests with the dispatcher and the pilot, known as ‘Co-Authority Dispatch’.
The Aviation Institute of Maintenance is proud to offer an FAA-approved Aircraft Dispatcher Certification Program at its Orlando, FL facilities that exceeds the minimum hours required to meet the training objectives. The course prepares Aircraft Dispatcher students to take the FAA written, oral, and practical exams leading to issuance of an Aircraft Dispatcher license. Upon successful completion of the course, the student will have the background necessary to earn a FAA Aircraft Dispatcher Certificate.
As this certificate is highly recognized and powerful, those who possess it have the opportunity to apply for positions not only as Flight Dispatchers, but also as airline Crew Schedulers, Crew Planners, Navigation Data-base Specialists, Meteorology Assistants, Airport Flight Operations Agents, Ramp Control Tower Agents, and many other flight operations positions.
Tip of the hat goes to the Airline Dispatchers Federation for the image and historical content.
1 – The Post Office
2 – False
3 – All the above
4 – False