The Early History of the Aircraft Dispatcher

On May 15, 1918, organized commercial air service began in the United States. The postal service began flying mail from New York and Washington, and while the route ended up being unsuccessful commercially, it did provide the principle of air mail. The route from New York to Washington resulted in the creation of the Postal Services’ transcontinental air mail route, which spanned 2,680 miles. The air Postal Service used modified World War I DH-4 aircraft and employed 745 employees, which included some of the first aircraft dispatchers.

These early aircraft dispatchers ensured that a particular aircraft was available, as well as determined whether or not weather conditions were optimal for air delivery or if the mail should be delivered by ground. By use of phones and low frequency radios, the aircraft dispatchers communicated with the pilots and briefed them on the weather and the airway traffic that they might encounter before their departure. In 1928, with use of the teletype circuit and the air-ground radio, the aircraft dispatcher was able to disseminate and receive weather reports and transmit the information to an aircraft in flight.

In November of 1935, an inter-airline traffic agreement including the air carriers that operated from the Chicago Cleveland-Newark airway was approved. The experimental center was fully staffed with aircraft dispatchers from the respective carriers. Two years later in 1937, the Bureau of Air Commerce assumed control of existing air carrier traffic control centers. With this in effect, the dispatch and air traffic control functions were subsequently separated. The first fifteen air traffic controllers were the aircraft dispatchers from the former airline dispatch facilities. Immediately following, the dispatch log of that time started showing the ATC delays, which reflected the reality that an outside organization was now responsible for the separation of air traffic control.

The aircraft dispatchers were responsible for negotiating altitudes and departure times with the air traffic control centers, in an attempt to control arrivals at busy terminals. Aircraft dispatchers were also responsible for alerting the captain of changes in weather and re-dispatch the flight to another airport if it was necessary. The aircraft and aircraft dispatchers would relay position reports and weather updates using the teletype and phone. Since the teletypes would become so backlogged, a separate “white” circuit was established for the aircraft dispatcher reports in 1937.

Increased regulation for aircraft dispatchers in the Civil Aeronautics Regulation 27 was implemented in November of 1937 and amended in May 1938 when a TWA flight that was carrying New Mexico’s Senator to Kansas City, crashed and killed the Senator and others. The congressional investigation concluded that the aircraft dispatcher on duty knew that the Kansas City weather was below minimums and that the aircraft had an erratic radio. The aircraft dispatcher also failed to contact the flight and detour the aircraft to a safer airport.

Since the beginning, the role of the aircraft dispatcher in deciding safety decisions had been inextricably bound to the air traffic control system. It was soon realized that air carrier dispatchers were incapable of making biased air traffic control decisions. It must be continually re-learned today that air traffic control cannot make economic and safety decisions for the airlines.

If you are interested in becoming an aircraft dispatcher, Sheffield School of Aeronautics is one of the United States’ oldest and most successful aircraft dispatching schools in the nation. They work exclusively with well-known airline companies and train people around the world for their FAA Aircraft Dispatchers license.

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