The Joint Responsibility of Flight: A Closer Look at the Role of a Dispatcher

The dispatcher and the crew share the responsibility of keeping our passengers safe during all phases of flight. Commercial flights in the United States need two people, the pilot in command and the dispatcher, to jointly share responsibility for deeming a flight airworthy. This process begins long before the aircraft takes off to the friendly skies, and all begins with the dispatcher.

Wanting to know more about this critical role in the airline industry, we sat down with several Air Wisconsin Dispatchers to learn a little more about a day in the life of a dispatcher.

A dispatcher’s day starts at 3:30 AM, working at our headquarters in Appleton, WI, in our Systems Operations Center (SOC). Their workspace is situated on the second floor of Appleton International Airport; it’s only pure coincidence they work close to the airport and air traffic control tower. A dispatcher can actually do their job most anywhere as long as they have access to all the necessary software and tools.

A typical Air Wisconsin dispatcher desk has four monitors and an iPad. This configuration allows each  team member to keep an eye on the weather on one screen, utilize our flight release software on a second, and see a plot of all our aircraft on the third. The fourth screen displays an intricate phone system that can assist them in quickly communicating with pilots, outstations, and our maintenance team.

Our dispatchers start by carefully reviewing the weather at departing and arrival cities, designing the flight plan, and identifying alternate routes to land to ensure safe travels for our passengers and our crew members. All of this planning is then merged into a flight release.

A flight release can be defined as the formal authorization for the pilot in command to proceed with a flight with both the dispatcher and the pilot in command in control. Additionally, a flight release must contain certain information such as the company name, make, model, and airplane registration. It must include the date of flight, departure, and arrival cities, any alternate airports, weather information, minimum fuel needed to complete the flight, and state the type of operation (instrument flight rules IFR or visual flight rules VFR). Flight releases contain critical detail and must be carefully reviewed every flight.                           

Planning safe flights and building flight releases are the core of a dispatcher’s work.

While the dispatcher is looking over the route and planning needed fuel, the pilot walks around the plane and reviews the logbook, a running description of all the repairs and maintenance performed on a particular aircraft. If the pilot detects a needed repair on an airplane during his pre-flight inspection, he contacts our Dispatch team. The Dispatcher will then start a conference call with our Maintenance team to discuss how to resolve the problem.

They will determine if the aircraft should be taken out of service for immediate repair or if the plane can still safely and legally fly on its scheduled flights, and the item will be repaired at a later time. This determination is made by using the aircraft’s Minimum Equipment List (MEL). The dispatcher must then note the items to be repaired later on the flight release.

After any MELs are addressed, the dispatcher sends the flight release to the crew, and the pilot agrees the aircraft is airworthy. The pilot prints and signs the release and brings it on the flight for reference.

Next, the dispatcher monitors the flight en route, ensuring no unexpected weather or mechanical issues negatively impact the flight’s progress. In fact, the dispatcher and the pilots can communicate with one another throughout the flight using a system called ACARS. If the pilot in command or dispatcher is of the opinion that a flight cannot operate safely as planned or released, the dispatcher may have the pilot land the plane at a listed alternate or nearest airport. 

For example, say a flight was released to fly from Appleton, WI (ATW) to Chicago, IL (ORD). Along the way, snow and ice suddenly covered the airport at ORD. The dispatcher, who is monitoring the flight and weather, would contact the pilot in command and advise them to fly to an alternate airport to land the aircraft safely on a clear runway in Milwaukee (MKE).

Another example of communication between dispatch and the pilots could relate to our passengers. If someone falls ill mid-flight, the pilots can notify the dispatcher, and they can contact the local emergency medical service to assist the passenger as soon as the plane lands.

Our Flight and Dispatch team’s continuous communication between the air and land ensures safe flying for our passengers and crew.

Being a dispatcher takes focus and dedication. We require an FAA Dispatcher License, and once hired, our Dispatchers receive paid training to learn about the specifics of our fleet. After initial training, our dispatchers continue their training, staying current with all regulations and flying at least five hours in the jumpseat of the cockpit annually to observe our pilots in the air.

We appreciate our dispatch team and could not fly without them!

If you think a career in dispatch might be the right choice for you, apply online today.

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