The sky is the highway in aviation, but navigating the skyway wouldn’t be possible without the many aviation workers on the ground. This month’s aviation career highlight takes us back to the ground with a focus on flight dispatchers.
In aviation, the airline captain isn’t the only one responsible for the operation and safety of the aircraft. The captain shares this responsibility with the flight dispatcher. Although other groups assist in carrying out these responsibilities, the captain and flight dispatcher certify the flights for operation.
Each flight plan begins at the flight dispatcher’s desk. The flight dispatcher is responsible for developing a flight plan that allows the plane to fly safely from one destination to another. This planning process includes planning the flight’s path and determining the appropriate weight and balance of the aircraft. The dispatcher then reviews the flight plan with the captain for approval. Once both parties agree on the flight plan, they sign off and the flight is ready to begin.
But the flight dispatcher’s job doesn’t end here. The flight dispatcher follows the flight from the ground and maintains constant communication and coordination with the captain. Any changes or adjustments during the flight are decided and agreed upon before enactment.
Flight dispatchers coordinate with the captain until the plane has landed and reached the terminal gate safely. In addition to communicating with the captain, flight dispatchers act as the go-between on the ground for all airline employees involved with the operation of the flight.
Flight Dispatcher Education, Training, and Job Requirements
A high school diploma is required and a degree in air transportation or meteorology is strongly preferred. All flight dispatchers must be 23 years of age or older, although you can begin training and take the written knowledge test at the age of 21. Flight dispatchers must undergo training and certification by the Federal Aviation Administration. Hopeful candidates must accrue 200 training hours on topics specific to flight dispatch and aviation. The candidate must then pass the written test, practical flight plan test, and an oral exam before receiving certification and eligibility for job positions.
There are a number of FAA-approved flight dispatch certification training programs. Most programs take only five to six weeks to complete and include training in areas such as:
Interpreting weather charts and forecasts
Weather and Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) collection, interpretation, and usage
National Weather Service services and products
Air traffic control procedures
Wind shear and microburst awareness and avoidance
Air navigation during IMC and National Airspace System
Aircraft performance, balance, and weight calculations
Crew resource management
Aeronautical decision making
The first test candidates can take is the written knowledge test. This is an 80-question test that you must pass with a score of 70 percent or higher. The score is valid for 24 months. You must be 21 years or older to take the written test. Testing centers are available at most large airports.
The practical flight plan test is a detailed flight planning exercise in which candidates will enact a flight plan exactly as they would in real life. Any areas not covered during the practical exam will be reviewed and tested during the follow-up oral exam. After the written, practical, and oral exams are completed, the candidate qualifies for certification and will receive a Temporary Aircraft Dispatcher Certificate which allows candidates to be eligible for employment while they await their permanent certification.
In addition to the required education and training, flight dispatchers must have good vision and hearing, team working and people skills, and the ability to perform under pressure during each shift. Anyone with these skills and abilities can become a flight dispatcher.
Aspiring flight dispatchers can begin by obtaining a related college degree from an accredited school offering aviation or meteorological programs. Delta State University and Hinds Community College both offer excellent aviation programs for Mississippi students. Itawamba Community College offers a two-year meteorology associate degree that can be completed as a bachelor’s degree at Mississippi State University.
The aviation industry is an exciting and rewarding career field. Check back each month to see which aviation career we’re highlighting. You never know. You may just find yourself inspired to pursue a new career!