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Schedulers and Dispatchers Do It All

There's a flight department job that requires knowledge of airports and fixed-base operations, general aviation rules and regulations, aviation weather, Customs and Transporation Security Administration (TSA) regulations, flight following, fuel prices and analysis, aircraft maintenance scheduling, flight log entries, and another four or five dozen specialized tasks – but the position is not chief pilot or even copilot. Welcome to the world of schedulers and dispatchers (S&Ds), whose daily responsibilities include, interestingly enough, many tasks similar to what pilots perform, as well as dozens of other diverse duties, from driving airport shuttles to arranging catering, planning meetings and handling department accounting.

"We don't fly it, and we don't fix it, but we do everything else," said Holly Pendleton, flight operations coordinator at Aflac, an insurance provider. "I have been on this job for 25 years and it's still difficult to define all the duties and responsibilities of the scheduler and dispatcher."

Anne-Marie Smith, supervisor, aviation administration at Steelcase Aviation, agrees, so she tried to come up with a definitive list of the many responsibilities of schedulers and dispatchers to provide insights about the job for flight department and human resource managers. Smith reached out to other schedulers through NBAA's Air Mail, and got many responses, which ended up as a list of more than 80 diverse duties. Most schedulers and dispatchers perform at least some of these duties, and some may do even more.

Needless to say, the ability to multi-task is a key requirement of the job. "An extreme level of organization and high ability to multi-task, as well as the ability to clarify processes, really helps," said Smith. "We have to put all the details together and see the larger picture."

Smith, who has a marketing background, said that the learning curve for schedulers can be great, with all the acronyms, regulations and requirements. "Weather is a huge challenge, as are crew duty and rest hours, and airport assessment is huge, too," said Smith.

Few individuals are aware of the scheduler/dispatcher career path until they "fall" into their jobs from another position within the same company, or happen to get the position and then start their on-the-job training. At a few companies, such as Jet Aviation, persons selected for the job are fortunate enough to be mentored for about nine to 12 months before they take on full responsibilities, according to George Kythreotis, vice president, human resources. "The ability to handle stress and to think on their feet is very important," said Kythreotis of the company's up-and-coming S&Ds, most of whom are college graduates and have their dispatcher's license.

Peter Wood, general manager of start-up charter operator Caliber Jet, has been in the business for more than 30 years, and he said he is still "always learning." Scheduler/dispatchers have been given "more and more responsibility over the years," said Wood. "Schedulers and dispatchers are the center point of flying," he added.

For individuals who like variety on the job, where no day is the same as any other, and who have well-honed organizational, customer relations, accounting, and three or four dozen other skill sets, being a scheduler/dispatcher can be very rewarding – provided they don't mind being on-call 24/7.

"I learn something new every day, and there is no possible way to get bored," said Smith of Steelcase. "However, if I really want to be off from work, I'd have to go to China and turn off my cell phone."

Training the Scheduler/Dispatcher

Being a licensed dispatcher is not a requirement for most business aviation scheduler jobs. In fact, many schedulers do not have their license, nor do they think it is necessary for their job, since the dispatch license is focused on Part 121 operations. Some schedulers who expressed interest in getting their dispatcher license noted, however, that the nature of their job makes it difficult to take multiple weeks off to attend the licensing class.

Gary Brock, senior director of aviation at Yum! Brands in Louisville, KY, said that his three full-time and one parttime schedulers are not really dispatchers, so the license is not required, but they are encouraged to participate in "ongoing education" such as NBAA's annual Schedulers & Dispatchers (S&D) Conference.

"It's important to interface with their peers, learn new ways of doing things and network with people in the field," said Brock. "Everybody benefits from it."

Recurrent training and workshops designed for schedulers and dispatchers are a key feature of the S&D Conference. "We have three days of educational sessions, six educational tracks and a range of sessions from beginning to advanced," said NBAA's Jo Damato, director, operations & educational development. For those with a dispatcher's license, a two-day recurrent training seminar, with an emphasis on business aviation operations, is given prior to the conference. The session is worthwhile for those even without a dispatcher's license, according to Damato.

New at this year's conference is a series of six sessions that count toward a "proof of attendance" validation that schedulers and dispatchers can show as a way to prove recurrent training for International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS -BAO) certification purposes. According to Damato, NBAA also offers occasional webinars and is looking at extending the learning experience year-round with a "virtual study group" for schedulers and dispatchers.

New SMS Sessions at This Year's Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference

Monday, January 16
10:15 a.m. – An Evolved Emergency Response Plan: Integration of Head and Heart
1:15 p.m. – Understanding the Value of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) Within the Scheduling/Dispatch Function

Tuesday, January 17
9:00 a.m. – Taking Safety Management Systems and Risk Assessment to the Next Level
3:30 p.m. – IS-BAO and What It Means for My Flight Department

Wednesday, January 18
8:45 a.m. – Identifying and Communicating Weather Risks
10:30 a.m. – Aircraft Performance and Flight Deck Basics

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