Bizav schedulers and dispatchers enhance trip planning efficiency

Coordination of aircraft, flightcrew and terminal details requires well-trained S&D personnel.

Schwan's Flight Dispatcher Cindy Polfliet (L) and John Deere Supervisor Flight Administration Dorette Kerr. It takes technological experience and skills to be a successful scheduler today, says Kerr.

Advantages and drawbacks

Another consideration is the time and effort required to implement technological change.
"Technology is great," says Spring Adamo, flight logistics lead at FirstEnergy's flight department in Akron OH, "but it's the transitional period of the technology that can weigh down schedulers.

For example, changing scheduling software can be a huge task in the beginning stages. Until the new software can be fully implemented, trips may have to be entered into the old software as well as the new, and this can be quite time-consuming."

On balance, though, schedulers agree the advantages of new technology are significant. New 3G and 4G mobile phones are increasingly compatible with various scheduling software systems, vastly simplifying trip changes and communication between schedulers and flightcrews.

Small lists some of the advantages, including "scheduling software and record keeping, flight planning software that incorporates your risk analysis, weather, customs and load manifest with weight and balance all in one. Remember what it used to take to do all of that?"

Jackie Hampton, scheduler for Yum! Aviation, says her company is working to take the scheduling system paperless. "I've been working with our aviation software vendor to have the flightcrew enter the flight log data into a wireless module," she says.

"It will then be available for me to upload and have accurate and real-time flight times for all of our aircraft. We're also planning to use a digital signature stamp to eliminate faxing corporate aircraft approval forms between our many home offices and the scheduling department. Our goal is to have our entire trip documentation package in an electronic format and stored in our records management software."

With new technology, Smith says she can do a better job more consistently. CTA-FOS scheduling software has lifted some of the burdens of detail and research from her position, she says, adding, "If a runway is too short for my aircraft, the program lets me know that.

If a passenger's passport is expired, I get a warning message. I even know on a moment-to-moment basis if there are adverse weather conditions that affect or could potentially affect the flights that day."

The time her scheduling software saves frees her to take a greater role in the department's operational aspects. Smith says, "As a scheduler, I find I'm looking at trips further in advance than the pilots, and attempting to identify operational issues that could influence the success of the flight.

I can then bring these issues to their attention and help formulate contingency plans that have less or no adverse effects on our passengers."

Fargo Jet Center Scheduler Danielle LeClair cites numerous advantages technology has brought to her job. "It's much easier these days to get information on FBOs," she says. "You can access almost anything now via a BlackBerry or other smart phone.

As a scheduler, it's nice to be able to send information straight to your pilots instead of having to fax information to the city he/she may be in and hope they get it. The ability to get information into the hands of your crews nearly instantaneously allows for better decision making, a higher level of safety and better customer service," she concludes.

SMS has an impact

Hewlett-Packard Scheduler Kama Denny (L) and Risk Threat Analysis Mgr Global Security Jenny Jolly aboard one of the company's 7 Gulfstream Vs. Today's technology makes it possible for schedulers to do their jobs from virtually anywhere.

The introduction of safety management systems (SMSs) is also having an impact on how some schedulers and dispatchers do their jobs.

"During the last 3–5 years the dispatch function has been impacted by the growth and implementation of SMS," Small says. "For some flight departments, the SMS tasks have always been there but not always called SMS or on paper. For others, it is a completely new and daunting task with plenty of challenges."

SMS brings more people into the decision-making process for flight planning, Small says. "For example, a risk analysis form on a trip leg that totals over a certain number requires the chief pilot to become involved in the discussion."

Kerr notes that schedulers and dispatchers must have a thorough understanding of their SMS programs and be proactive in risk identification. "In some flight departments a scheduler or dispatcher may serve as the safety manager," she says.

"In most departments, the scheduler or dispatcher works closely with the safety manager in areas such as charter auditing, development and implementation of the emergency response program, coordinating and attending safety training courses, serving on the safety committee, reporting hazards and developing family assistance programs."

In addition, Kerr says, a best practice for S&Ds is to complete a risk assessment on each trip that they schedule using a risk assessment tool or checklist to review factors such as crew assignments, crew duty, rest and flight hour status, fuel stop requirements, runway length and width, instrument approaches, curfew or slot requirements, FBO services and safety practices, security and health alerts, weather conditions, terrain or elevation factors, night operations and any special procedures applicable to the flight.

Hampton says the scheduling team at Yum! is expected to be an active participant in the SMS program. "We are working on a flight risk assessment tool specifically for the scheduling team," she says. "Every member of the flight department has access to the safety website and we can each write up a safety report if we see something that needs to be addressed. We also have access to review all the safety reports in the system and we can add our input."

Mike Potts is an aviation consultant and freelance writer. He worked in corporate communications for Beech and Raytheon Aircraft between 1979 and 1997.


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