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.