The Flight Dispatcher

The Flight Dispatcher has been an important part of the history of commercial aviation since its inception.  As World War I drew to a close, a new business model in the transportation of passengers, cargo and mail by air saw its beginnings.

In 1918, Commercial and Transportation Aviation was on its way to establishing itself as a thriving business model in the United States and taking advantage of the booming aviation industry the Postal Service (USPD) began shipping mail by air using war surplus DH-4 aircraft.

The first route used to move mail and parcels by the USPS was between New York and Washington, and in the following months the service progressed to transcontinental covering 2,680 miles, this rapid growth forced the hiring of more than 740 employees, mostly military veterans of the war, among which were counted besides the administrative personnel, pilots, aircraft dispatchers, drivers, aircraft mechanics, etc… 

The first Aircraft Dispatchers made sure that a particular aircraft was available, as well as determined if weather conditions were optimal for air delivery or if mail had to be delivered by ground, and also had to communicate with pilots before the flight and inform them about the weather and traffic they might encounter on their route, using telephones and low-frequency radios.

In 1920, the Post Office Department issued orders to establish the first airmail radio stations along transcontinental airmail routes, The airmail radio station personnel provided early flight following service, with departure time and a teletype coded flight plan to all stations along the route, they also provided weather observations to pilots.

  1. the commercial airline industry became profitable when the Air Mail Act authorized the Post Office Department to contract with airlines to carry the mail, these airlines to provide optimum service saw the need to hire Aircraft Dispatchers already trained by the postal service. But it was not until 1928, with the use of the teletype circuit and air-to-ground radio, that these personnel were able to broadcast and receive weather reports and transmit the information to an aircraft in flight.

In November 1935, an inter-airline traffic agreement was approved which included airlines operating from the Chicago Cleveland-Newark airway, this experimental center was fully staffed with Aircraft Dispatchers.

In 1937, the Bureau of Air Commerce assumed control of the existing airline traffic control centers, with this in effect, the air traffic control and dispatching functions were separated.  It should be noted that the first fifteen Air Traffic Controllers were the aircraft dispatchers of the old airline dispatch facilities.

The Flight Dispatcher profession has evolved with all the changes that the industry has undergone, however this profession maintains the pillars and continues to legally share the responsibility for operational safety, and safety of flight operation with the pilot.

Today the Flight Dispatcher may be known by different titles such as: Airline Dispatcher, Flight Follower, Flight Operations Officer, or Flight Operations Center Supervisor, Aircraft Dispatcher, Air Operations Officer, Flight Operations Manager, or Aircraft Dispatcher and their role entails tasks related to gathering, generating and providing the necessary information for the safe conduct of a flight, this includes but is not limited to weather information, flight plan creation, flight performance calculations, aircraft weight and balance, supervision of operational activities on the ground, etc…

In the different airline operations manuals, the position profile of a Flight Dispatcher is: “Professional technical personnel that helps to plan, execute, follow and supervise air operations in compliance with aeronautical legal standards, and in accordance with the safety and operational safety guidelines of the flight of the Commercial or Air Transport Operator“.

In order to work as a Flight Dispatcher, it is required to have an Aeronautical Personnel License granted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) through a process of theoretical and practical evaluations performed to the person requesting it. This application process has prerequisites that the applicant must meet such as: minimum age, good physical and mental health, endorsed knowledge, acquired experience and demonstrable skills, to issue this license the CAA follows the guidelines set forth in the standards and recommended methods of Annex 1.