How Flight Dispatchers Came to Be
I was asked recently, “How did dispatchers come about?” In which I pondered the same question. I decided to do some research and with the help of the Airline Dispatchers Federation, I discovered interesting facts on the early dispatchers.
You’ll be surprised just how early flight dispatchers were introduced into the aviation industry. Clearly, the flight dispatcher was not created overnight and was something that evolved over time. In the mid 1920s and into early 1930s it was standard practice to have pilots of commercial operations to load mail, cargo and passengers and fly from Point A to Point B with little weather information or any firm plan of action in case conditions changed enroute. In those days pilots would fly in the general direction of their destination with the guidance of a compass, referencing landmarks along the way. Aircraft back then had little usable communication equipment, little navigation equipment, and airlines back then had no reliable method of tracking their aircraft or updating their pilots of developing weather once airborne.
The US Postal Service had a major influence in early aviation and drive to the commercial air industry. You might even consider the first “dispatchers” might have worked for the US Postal Service as they were the first ones to establish radio stations along their air routes. The personnel that manned these stations would provide as much flight following as possible, as well as weather observations at their stations. However, as a result of increasing accidents, loss of lives and US mail over the years, the federal government decided to implement a regulation that would help increase safety.
The “Civil Aeronautics Act” was passed by congress in 1938. This legislation enforced strict laws to ensure all commercial carriers operated in a safe manner, which in turn created an operational control structure. With that, the “operational control” structure created the birth of an additional airman to the scenario - the official flight dispatcher.
Up until the 1960s it would not be uncommon to find your flight dispatchers stationed at the airline’s hubs. The captain back then would meet face to face with his/her flight dispatcher and discuss the flight route and everything associated with it before handing over the flight paper work.
As you may know, the flight dispatcher is a ground based certified airman who, according to the regulations along with the pilot in command, is joint responsible for the safety of the flight. See Flight Dispatcher: The Pilot on the Ground for more information on what a flight dispatcher is.