Bizav schedulers and dispatchers enhance trip planning efficiency
Coordination of aircraft, flightcrew and terminal details requires well-trained S&D personnel.
By Mike Potts
Amway Aviation's travel team adjusts schedules to meet changing demands. (L–R) Senior Schedulers Deanna McCormick, Nancy Carlson and Mollie McClure check crew availability with new scheduling software—one of many changes affecting how schedulers do their jobs.
With more than 2200 people expected to attend NBAA's 22nd annual Schedulers and Dispatchers (S&D) Conference in Savannah GA, it's clear that the business of scheduling and dispatching business aircraft has more than come of age.
This is a marked contrast with 1989, when the first S&D conference opened in Montvale NJ with just 68 attendees.
Today's scheduler/dispatcher is a key member of the flight department, helping to keep the operation running smoothly and handling the myriad challenges that arise every day to keep corporate aviation interesting.
Moreover, schedulers and dispatchers say their profession is continuing to evolve, driven by changes in regulation, technology and the ever present need to make business aviation more cost efficient.
"More and more schedulers and dispatchers are assuming responsibilities formerly completed by pilots and flight department managers/directors," says John Deere Global Aviation Services Manager Flight Administration Dorette Kerr, a former NBAA S&D committee chairman.
This is happening for various reasons, she says, including "increased flight hours, expanded international travel, [and] the need to manage human resources more effectively and develop strategic plans for departmental sustenance."
Among the added duties schedulers report performing today that weren't part of the job 5–10 years ago are selecting FBOs, tracking fuel prices, choosing destination airports, and sometimes deciding which aircraft will be assigned to which trip. These expanded duties require the scheduler to have a broader skill set than in years past.
"Gone are the days when the S&D role [could] be easily assumed by someone in a clerical position with no travel background, no prior experience working directly with the flight department regularly, and with little or no technological experience and skills," says Kerr.
Training is a must
Steelcase Aviation Scheduler Anne-Marie Smith says changing regulations have affected her job the most in the past 5 years.
Today's scheduler needs high-quality job-specific training, according to Kerr. "An ineffective training regime can adversely affect the daily operations of any flight department," she says. "Flight departments have become more aware of the importance of training for schedulers and dispatchers and have recognized the added value that the trained professional brings to their companies."
One of the leading roles of NBAA's S&D conference over the years has been to provide the training schedulers need to grow in their jobs, says Fargo Jet Center VP Markting Darren Hall, current S&D committee chairman.
"Training and professional development [are] a major part of what we do," he says. "We have entry level training for the people just coming into the job and we have advanced courses designed to keep the most experienced schedulers up to date on changes and developments in the industry."
Hall says a recent trend is for smaller flight departments that don't have a full-time scheduler to send a pilot to the S&D conference to pick up on new scheduling techniques. "They may not have a full-time scheduler," he says, "but all the things a scheduler does still have to be accomplished. In a small department, the pilots need to know how to do those things."
Schedulers say the S&D conference is also a good place to keep up with happenings in regulation and technology, both of which affect how schedulers do their jobs.
Anne-Marie Smith, scheduler for Steelcase's aviation department and a past chairman of the S&D group, says regulatory changes have had the biggest impact over the past 5 years on how she does her job.
"For us," she says, "the biggest change continues to be regulation in the name of safety and security, which isn't a bad thing. Fine-tuning our ops manual has forced us to examine every aspect of our operation from a safety standpoint.
"We have to be able to walk the talk in anticipation of foreign and domestic inspections," she explains, "and that has made everyone in our department more aware of areas of potential hazard—and areas for improvement. I have never been so cognizant of the effects of fatigue and circadian cycles on crewmembers, or the many factors that contribute to runway contamination," Smith says.
Technology is also having a big impact on scheduling as a profession. "We are moving fast in this area," says Charlie Stockton, scheduler for the flight department at DSM (Des Moines IA)-based MidAmerican Energy.
"When I first started as a scheduler we used the string-on-a-map method of getting mileage and everything was done by hand and calculator. Now I can sit in a restaurant and check my e-mails, run trips, schedule aircraft and track my flights in real time. I can do my job virtually anywhere I have Internet access."
Stockton notes, however, "This is a double-edged sword. It also means you're far more accessible and are never really 'off the clock.' That can add stress to your life, so it's important to find that happy medium so you have some balance. Overall, I think it's great.
Yes, it makes me more accessible, but it also allows a great deal of flexibility in my job, and makes the department run more efficiently and safely."
David Small, flight ops administrator for Cox Enterprises in Atlanta GA, says, "Technology has not only opened up the lines of communication—it has also blurred the lines of business. On-call has leapt to always on."
Small notes, "BlackBerrys and iPhones have given us the ability to communicate from just about any location, to send out changes to trips or schedules and to upload risk analysis forms and flight data without a pencil the minute a trip lands. While technology is allowing for easier access, it certainly is not making the job any easier."
While access to laptops and data phones may have turned the scheduler's job into a 24/7 situation, the advent of expanded communications equipment has also given them more freedom in how they do their work. "Our schedulers telenetwork 2 days a week," says Kerr.
"We've found that this practice increases overall employee satisfaction and productivity. It also reduces stress by avoiding the need to commute every day. Not commuting also cuts travel cost and puts a little more money in their pocket, and everybody seems to like that."