Aircraft Dispatcher

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) FAR 121 certified aircraft dispatcher can best be described as “the captain on the ground.” Within all U.S. airlines and express carrier operations, this occupation is one that, generally, people are less familiar with due to the behind the scenes nature of the role. As an aircraft dispatcher, you will share joint responsibility for flight with the pilot in command of the aircraft. You will be the point of contact and one-stop shop for all flightcrew needs from pre-departure through takeoff, enroute, and upon landing.

Even if a pilot in command must exercise emergency authority, the aircraft dispatcher must ensure that each flight receives, disseminates, and distributes to the flight crew any and all information for their planned flight.

Career Outlook

The pool of qualified candidates for aircraft dispatcher employment is often quite competitive; however, there are several industry factors that make employment as an aircraft dispatcher an enticing career choice.

  1. As with many other positions within the industry, some major airlines are hiring due to attrition associated with mergers/acquisitions and retirement of senior dispatcher employees.
  2. Internal growth is occurring at most major/express carriers, so airlines are attempting to get ahead of the workload curve by regularly interviewing and hiring qualified pools of candidates internally (inside their company ranks) and also qualified candidates already employed at express carriers.
  3. More often, those already employed at express carriers (as aircraft dispatchers) do have an advantage for future employment opportunities because they have already gained the valuable experience needed to work at a major airline; however, some major airlines do prefer to hire within their company ranks.

Airlines usually have centrally located aircraft dispatch offices—called Operational Control Centers (OCCs) and/or Network Operations Centers (NOCs)—that control all flights for that particular airline.

Some major airlines’ aircraft dispatch offices:

  • Alaska Airlines in Seattle, Washington (SEA)
  • American Airlines in Dallas, Texas (DFW)
  • Delta Airlines in Atlanta, Georgia (ATL)
  • Hawaiian Airlines in Honolulu, Hawaii (HAL)
  • Southwest Airlines in Dallas, Texas (DAL)
  • United Airlines in Chicago, Illinois (ORD)
  • Endeavor Airlines in Minneapolis, Minnesota (MSP)

Working in an aircraft dispatch department has historically been one of the best places for internal management promotions, and dispatch is generally in close contact with the senior officials/officers within their company (due to the nature of their occupation and decisions).

Aircraft Dispatchers salaries vary depending on years of service, whether you work for a regional carrier, a major airline, or a cargo carrier (e.g., UPS).

On average, a new-hire aircraft dispatcher at a regional carrier should expect a starting salary of approximately $29,000, topping out around $50,000. For the majors, on average, a newly hired aircraft dispatcher starts at approximately $50,000, and the salary tops out around $130,000. At both express and major carriers, you can branch out within the office by accepting training on “specially qualified” desks. These “company select” positions often have overrides that push a senior dispatcher’s salary to approximately $140,000. Learn More >


The aircraft dispatcher:

  • Shares responsibility for the flight with the pilot in command, and both are required to sign a dispatch release prior to each flight before any flight can legally operate.
  • Responsible for pre-flight planning while taking into consideration many factors including weather, maintenance problems on the aircraft, navigational facilities, Notices to Airmen, alternate airports (as needed) and to exercise flight following from takeoff to touchdown while their flight is in progress.
  • Continually maintains communications with his or her flights and is responsible for notifying the captain (flight crew) of any significant changes that would affect the safety of flight.
  • Can delay or cancel flights and adjust operational decisions as necessary to ensure the safety of the flight.

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Applicants will be subject to the following eligibility requirements:

  1. Be at least 23 years of age (the same age for both the Aircraft Dispatcher and the Airline Transport Pilot Certificate).
  2. Read, speak, write, and understand the English language.
  3. Applicants need not have any prior aviation experience.
  4. Be a U.S. citizen or hold current authorization to live and receive education within the United States.
  5. Pass the required FAA Aircraft Dispatcher Computerized Knowledge Test with a 70 percent or better score.
  6. Complete the required course work (minimum of 200 hours), and pass an oral examination administered by a certified FAA-designated examiner.

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To be considered for an aircraft dispatcher job, you must complete extensive training and pass both an extensive oral examination and the comprehensive Dispatch ADX test, administered by the FAA. These tests are equivalent to the same Air Transport Pilot (ATP) written and oral examinations that an airline pilot must successfully complete.

The following is the aircraft dispatcher course curriculum (minimum of 200 hours):

  1. National Airspace System
    • ATC Facilities
    • ATC System Design & Equipment
    • Airport Operations
    • Avionics & Instrumentation
    • Airport Charts
  2. Aircraft Systems
    • Aerodynamics
    • Flight Control
    • Performance
    • Limitations
    • Weight & Balance
  3. Communications: Radio Communications & Procedures
  4. Emergency/Abnormal
    • Weather
    • Aircraft Systems
  5. Meteorology
    • Weather Theory
    • Reports
    • Forecasts
    • Charts, Diagrams, Sources
  6. Navigation Systems
    • Navigation Systems
    • Aeronautical Charts
    • Flight Planning
  7. Practical Flight Dispatching
    • Flight Planning
    • Problem Solving
    • Contingency Planning
    • Emergencies
  8. Regulations: Federal Aviation Administration FAR 121 Regulations

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Regulatory Oversight

Federal Aviation Administration