Flight Dispatching


I have had interest in pursuing commercial airline dispatching for some time. I have investigated the schools, requirements, etc. What I am hoping to find is a current or recent dispatcher who can give me some insight as to how a day really goes…the kind of things that are really only known by those who work in the job day to day. Whether its as great a job as advertised, things corporate pushes on you, etc.



Hi. I will try to answer your question with my limited aviation experience.
I am currently serving as a Pilot with a Part 121 air carrier and hold an ATP, Aircraft Dispatcher, Air Traffic Controller certificates. I am also a Paralegal specializing in aviation law. I served as a Dispatcher for 18 out of 25 years at a major air carrier. I can tell you that the position can be both, extremely rewarding and a major pain in the ass at the same time.

First, you must understand the role of a Flight Dispatcher. Per Federal regulation, (Part 121 Domestic), a Dispatcher shares joint authority and joint responsibility over the direct operational control of the flight. This encompasses the intitiation, safe conduct, completion, diversion or cancellation of the flight. Prior to deaparture, the Captain and Dispatcher must agree that the flight can be conducted safely as planned. While enroute, the Dispatcher must keep the flight crew advised of any condition which may adversely affect the safety or timely completion of the flight. If, in such adverse circumstances, the Dispatcher is unable to communicate with the Captain, the Dispatcher may take any action he/she may deem necessary under “emergency authority”.

Basically, your day starts with an in depth weather analysis, not just a simple briefing. At my company, I was one of four Dispachers trained in weather forecasting. The weather analysis covers the airlines entire area of operations to include any international destinations. All applicable airport and airway NOTAMs are reviewed. Next, aircraft MEL issues are reviewed for possible operational restriction and s. Also, any changes in company policies, FOM, GOM, OpSpecs and MEL are reviewed. Then, you proceed to your assigned Dispatch desk where you receive a briefing from the preceeding Dispatcher regarding the particular assignments of flights. Once you agree with the operation of active flights and the next bank of departures as dispatched, you assume responsibility for those flights and the other Dispatcher goes home.

When planning a flight and building the Dispatch Release, all information previously reviewed is considered in determining the need for an alternate airport, route of flight, required fuel load, etc. Once all factors are properly considered and the flight planned accordingly, the flight may be released. Prior to departure, the Captain will call Dispatch for a briefing regarding his particular flight. When the weather is good, ATC has their act together and only minor aircraft maintenance issues exist, everything usually goes well. But, if there are any disruptions, you could be in a world of hurt very quickly. Especially if you are directly responsible for 80 to 100 flights during your shift as was the case for me. In my case, I dispatched flights, not only dommestically (within the U.S.), but to Europe, Caribbean and Mexico as well. At times it was quite a handfull as I was monitoring the western hemisphere for weather and ATC issues. Management may, at some air carriers, attempt to push a little, but they are limited in how far they can go with it. Especially if the Captain and Dispatcher are in agreement over an issue. By regulation, there is no higher authority over a flight in a Part 121 Domestic air carrier operation than that of the Captain/Dispatcher joint authority.

If Dispatching is what you really want to do, go for it. It is a fantastic career. However, if you want to fly for a living, then, fly. I say this because Dispatching, at the major ailine level, can be a golden trap if you are not careful. The pay, benefits and work schedules are such that one cannot afford to leave the position in order to fly with the regionals for a living. The starting salary varies from one company to another, but average around 35k to 40k/yr with the majors. In contrast, a Pilot’s starting salary at the regional is only in the 20k/yr (poverty) range.

The Airline Dispatcher Federation is a great place to look for information on Dispatching careers with links to a wealth of related information. The ADF web site is: www.dispatcher.org

If you have any additional questions, please feel free to ask.


double post edit-


I really appreciate your information. A few other questions…Are any particular schools regarded as a bit better than the rest? How long would a realistic upgrade from regional to major take? What are the typical shifts? How is hiring and staffing related to cuts that airlines sometimes make…obviously less flights equal a lower need for dispatchers. What is the pay scale advancement like? It seems like there is a progression that dispatchers go through, along with specializations…some do more routine things for the start, then progress to other areas of dispatch-if this is accurate, how does it go? Is it worth it?

Thanks again!


Hmmmm, I wouldn’t listen to this guy. It’s obvious that he doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about. :wink:


Yah, don’t listen to the guy who, not only actually did the job, but also served on the FAA rule making committee to write the applicable regulations in 14 CFR Part 119. Don’t listen to the guy who assists Attorneys in representing Pilots, Dispatchers and Mechanics who were charged by the FAA with violations of the regulations. Don’t listen to the guy who worked directly with the FAA Office of Chief Cousel regarding the official legal interpretations of the regulations.

What’s your background?


He could be an unemployed garbage man for all we know, after all this is the “internets” :unamused:

Disclaimer:This was a tongue in cheek attempt at humor. I meant no offense to CGLewis, garbage men, the unemployed, GWB or anyone else without a sense of humor. Thank you. :wink:


See disclaimer in MY previous post, I’m sure it fits


Judging by the wink I’d assume he was being facetious in regards to your disclaimer.

I was going to insert a joke about how I learned all I needed to know about Dispatch by watching Tin Cup, but then I remembered that’s ATC.



You ask all the right questions. I know that my answers may seem
rather vague, but such information is largely dependant on the particular airline operation and industry demands. Anyway, I will try to answer them.

Are any particular schools regarded as a bit better than the rest?
A couple that come to mind are: Delta Aircraft Dispatcher School,
The Airline Academy, and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.
There a lot of schools out there that teach only the material that prepares a person for the Dispatcher Written Exam while others offer a comprehensive course whereby you will earn your Dispatch certificate. Some even offer job placement following course completion. The FAA maintains a list of Dispatch schools that are FAA approved on the FAA website. It’s worth looking at.

How long would a realistic upgrade from regional to major take? It actually depends on the industry demand and a person’s aviation experience, ie; former ATC, Pilot, etc. On average, a person with no prior aviation experience would be looking at two to three years with a regional before moving up to the Majors. But, if the industry demand is in a high cycle, it may happen a little sooner. than that. At present, considering the rising fuel prices and airline closures, any airline occupation is a roll of the dice.

What are the typical shifts?
Again, each airline operates its Dispatch office in their own way. But, typically, they have morning (5AM Starts), evening (1PM starts) and midnight shifts (9PM starts). The office where I worked had 10-hour shifts working 4 days ON, 2 days OFF, 4 Days ON, 4 Days OFF. Some airlines have 8-hour shifts, working a 6 day ON, 1 OFF schedule. It all depends on the airline. If you have a particular airline in mind where you would like to be employed, let me know and I will try to get some information from them for you.

**How is hiring and staffing related to cuts that airlines sometimes **make…obviously less flights equal a lower need for dispatchers?
You are correct in your assumption. Usually, the number of Disatchers is tied to the number of flights that the air carrier operates. Sometimes they tie it with the number of aircraft. In either case, the fewer flight operations or fewer aircraft requires fewer Dispatchers. This is the bad part of the profession.

What is the pay scale advancement like?
This too, depends on the particular airline, but usually, starting pay at the regionals is in the high teens to low 20s. Pay scale advancement is whatever the airline has established or, if unionized, whatever the labor contract establishes.

It seems like there is a progression that dispatchers go through, along with specializations…some do more routine things for the start, then progress to other areas of dispatch-if this is accurate, how does it go?

I can tell by your question that you have been doing your homework.
You are right on the money. Some airlines have an Assistant Dispatcher position fas an entry level position. In that capacity, you would monitor weather and NOTAM inormation and maintain that information in the company data base and also provide updates of that information to the Dispatchers. Some companies would also have you handle aircraft weight & balance calculations for each flight on behalf of the Dispatcher.
Progression from an Assistant Dispatcher to DIspatcher would also vary depending on the need within the company. Typically, about 1 to 1/2 years. Also, if teh airline conducts International operations accross the oceans, specialized training is required and some airlines offer a slightly higher pay for international qualification. Above the Dispatcher level, one may advance to a number of supervisory positions within the Dispatch Office, or to other management positions within the company. It all depends on your experience and if you have a college degree.

Is it worth it? Most definately, YES! It is a fantastic career opportunity. Being a Dispatcher and working within the “Operations Control Center” as it is sometimes referred, provides a multitude of operations experience and insight that no other position would offer. As a Dispatcher, you are heavily involved in the daily operation of the airline and each decision that you make has a direct affect on the company’s bottom line. In this position, you see the operation from a much larger picture than others and you handle any problems that may arise, from a lost wallet to an aircraft accident. Yes, it’s worth it. But, make sure its what you want to do because once you are into it, it very difficult to leave it for something else. It took me 18 years to finally have an opportunity to do what I truly wanted to do, fly. Looking back on it, I am glad that I gained the operations experience that the Dispatch position has provided.


In retrospect, I believe you are right. Perhaps I missed the wink and over-reacted. If I was wrong, I am man enough to admit it and offer my humble apology to trafly.


trafly, My apology to you for my obvious over-reaction to your post. I guess I spent too many years involved in the politics of aviation and became too sensitive to such things. At 49, I am still learning to spool down a little. I simply have to remind myself that as long as the beer stays cold, life is good! :smiley:


Welcome to FA and the vagaries of non face to face communication on the internet!



FIL of a dispatcher! :laughing:


No worries. Seems to me the rest of the boys already slapped you around a bit. Welcome to the boards.


By the way…You couldn’t pay me enough to deal with all the crap that a busy dispatcher has going on all at once. My boss is happy if I don’t bend the airplane or scare to pax too much, and that’s all I can handle!


For the Delta School you mentioned, the closest thing was Sheffield.

Why do you mention that you tend to get trapped in the job?


I mentioned the possibility of the Dispatch position being a “golden trap” as a caveat because some enter into the profession as a means of moving on to the flight deck with a given air carrier. That is, for those aspiring to become an airline pilot. Once in the Dispatch position at the major airlines, however, they find that the pay and benefits are usually higher than the starting salary of a First Officer. The cut in pay to move on to the flight deck may be too much for the Dispatcher to handle. Especially if he/she has a family to support, or if he/she needs to fly for a regional airline to build time or experience before moving on to the flight deck. Also, some companies make it very difficult for a person to make such a career move. At the company where I worked, if one wanted to become a pilot, the company had a policy that required an employee to separate from the company and fly for another company for at least a year, then, re-apply for a pilot position without consideration of your previous service and without a guarentee of even an interview. It was truly a stupid policy and they have since eliminated it. Other companies still have similar policies in place, so before entering the Dispatch profession, be sure that it is what you want to do. There is nothing worse than being trapped in a position that you never intended as your final career objective. If your objective is to become a professional Dispatcher, more power to you and you have my complete respect. Pursue your dreams until they become reality. For me, my dream has always been to become a professional pilot, but for various reasons it had remained allusive until now. I don’t make nearly as much as I did as a Dispatcher, but I am now doing what I absolutely love to do…flying. I guess you could say that I am “living the dream”.