Airline dispatchers work on the ground to ensure that all airline flights under their watch operate safely and efficiently. An airline dispatcher is typically required to make flight plans for their flights that take into account weather conditions, fuel consumption, personnel requirements, and air traffic. This flight plan is then approved by the pilot, with whom the airline dispatcher may share joint legal responsibility for the flight. The purpose of requiring pilots to work with airline dispatchers is to improve safety by incorporating checks and balances into the flight system.
The workday of an airline dispatcher typically begins with a check of weather, satellite images, and other information about issues affecting flights for that day. Once the dispatcher is familiar with the current flying conditions, the person for whom they are relieving fills them in on the current flights in the air. The rest of the day is typically spent monitoring and communicating with flights, staying on top of weather information, and signing off on flights that the dispatcher has planned. A dispatcher has the authority to divert, delay, cancel, or otherwise change flight plans. The flight's airline dispatcher is often considered the plane's "captain on the ground," because of his or her powerful and important role in the flight of the plane.
Not every flight is required to have an airline dispatcher, and many supplemental carriers employ what is called a flight follower. A flight follower does not share legal responsibility with the pilot for the safety of the flight, and is not required to acquire a license. Additionally, while most countries employ some form of licensed airline dispatchers, the licensing requirements vary slightly from country to country. Dispatchers are not licensed in some locations, but most follow international regulations in order to keep planes safe.
In the United States, a licensed airline dispatcher is supposed to have aviation knowledge equivalent to that of a pilot, as well as substantial experience with meteorology. Since this is a licensed position, there are many airline dispatcher training programs that teach just these skills. Taking the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Aircraft Dispatcher Exam (ADX), which consists of a written, practical, and oral component, typically marks the completion of a training program. This test involves aviation knowledge questions, the creation of a flight plan, and oral questions concerning specific dispatching issues. These stringent licensing processes were created to ensure that people employed in airline dispatch jobs are knowledgeable and qualified enough to keep a plane safe.