Thursday, May 27, 2010

Where the lights are on 24-7 (Flight Dispatch)

Flight dispatch, located off airport premises in Toronto, oversees the entire system. About 650 to 700 flight plans are generated here. Jazz has their own dispatch center located at the Halifax Airport which also generates about 650 flight plans a day.

These pictures were taken from last year's tour. Fourteen desks operate around the clock.
(Actually it does wind down a little during the wee hours of the night. But not by much, especially when Air Canada is operating in time zones around the world.

The desks are divied according to region. Canadain western, East coast, Rapidairs, New York, American Southwest, European, Asian, etc. This is the supervisor's desk. (He or she must be out supervising) :)
Actually, they are giving the tour.

This is one of the international desks which overlooks Toronto Pearson Airport . The dispatchers only leave their desks for washroom breaks. There are no scheduled lunch breaks.

Here the four operational screens are in full view. They can move from one screen to another. A dispacther may have up to 20 to 25 applications on the go at any given time. Next to pilots, they are the second highest paid group in an airline and our known as "captains on the ground." They must perform flight following as per the Canadian Aviation Regulations.

Photo: Compliments of Erik in FRA

During the tour, we watched flight 015 (B777 YYZ-HKG) take off runway 05. Always heavily ladened with fuel, the take off run is a long one. That day, a medical situation at the gate delayed the flight by an hour.
The dispatchers joked about how the A40-300 laboured into flight while operating this flight. I agreed by saying, "I' was glad the earth was curved so we could airborne." :)

Flight Dispatch
Two days ago, Captain Doug, five Brampton flight center student pilots and one facilitator met for a tour of Air Canada's flight dispatch center. When we arrived we were briefed by a high ranking dispatch guru who is always open to tours.

He mentions the morning saw an Airbus 321 enroute to Vancouver from Toronto divert into Winnipeg for a medical emergency. They had to land overweight so an inspection had to be done by maintenance. The small airbus fleet can't jettison fuel so an overweight landing is the only option. One of the parameters is, not to exceed 360 feet/min during touch down. If my landings were that snug, I'd be back in the simulator for remedial training. :)

Flight 016 (Hong Kong to Toronto) also had a medical emergency and ducked into ShangHai.
They jettisoned 20,000 kg of fuel and still landed overweight. That fuel translates into 25,000 litres, enough to supply my car for years.

A B767 sat on the ground in Lima waiting for a part for two days. It wasn't a maintenance issue per say, but local customs playing silly bugger.

Plus they had 10 aircraft with maintenance issues that morning. If you want a dynamic job, running an airline would be on the top of the list.

The students job shadowed for about an hour with individual dispatchers. These people are true professionals and everyone loves talking about their job. The applications they have privy to is amazing! While we watched flight 015 (YYZ-HKG) take off we perused over some flight planning figures. The cost for fuel and navigation fees were $102,000 for that flight only. That excluded wages, commissary, etc. The dispatcher also gave a break down of navigation fees from different centers along the route. To fly into Russian airspace that day cost $3000.
It reminds me of a worn out saying, "if you want to make a small fortune in the airline business, start with a large one!"

Crew Sked

I'm sitting in cold, damp Calgary after shooting an approach in low visibility in snow (yes, you read right) during the wee hours last night. I went from 31 C in Toronto to zero Celsius and snow in Calgary. Talk about meteorological extremes. Only in Canada you say?

Captain Doug had three weeks off, but like most months lately I went on "make up" to top up my pay. I was awarded one leg out to Vancouver, sit and watch airplanes while having a beverage at the "Flying Beaver," rest up and fly back via Edmonton.

Well as I started this post last night, crew sked called and asked if I would be interested in flying to Calgary enticing me with 'draft pay." I took the bait, however, I should have looked at the weather. That will teach me. Although, the only glitches were the fueler showed up late in Toronto causing a 20 minute delay and we had to dodge an area of thunderstorms in the state of Montana casing a 10 minute deviation. Now I sit blogging.

(Here is why I do what I do)
Captain Morris,


I just finished reading your book and it was absolutely fantastic. I could write a testimonial about your book. I learned a lot from your book, even as an avid aviation enthusiast. It will be a travel

companion of mine whenever I fly (so I can remember the formula for how far I can see at altitude) and all the different clouds. Reading a first hand account of what it is like to fly for the majors reinforced why I wanted to be a pilot for so long. I truly felt as if I was in the flight deck of the A340 with you going from YYZ-HKG. I am looking into entering flight operations (after my post-secondary education) as a flight dispatcher. I have actually visited the AC dispatch office

and it seems like the next best place for me besides the flight deck. I was connected to a dispatcher there (Boris Gleyberg, you may know him?) by a pilot at AC, Matt Ritter, he is a Captain on the Embraers.I really hope I am one day dispatching at AC, it seems like a

fantastic career. I also hope to be on a flight of yours one day so I can get my book signed. I will also be providing this book to my friends who have a fear of flying so that they can obtain an

understanding of the entire process (which you write about very well) and appreciate flight as I do.


Happy Flying!


Jason G.


Tim said...

Great post on Air Canada Flight Dispatch, Doug! BTW, I had commented on the construction post but for some reason my post got I wanted to say this:

Fantastic handiwork! My dad has done stuff like that, including a built-in custom bookshelving unit/TV cabinet/computer desk here in our house, plus chair rail, installed crown moulding, etc. He's an excellent craftsman too, so I can appreciate the ability you have as well. Great job!

Let's see if this post gets eaten (hoping not...).


Tim said...

BTW, house is GORGEOUS!


From the Flight Deck said...

Hi Tim. Looks like your post made it. (Both of them). Thanks for persevering to send your comments.

Your father even tackled crown moulding? I've done some, but it never turns out the way I'd like it.
My hats off to your dad!

Tim, thanks for the kind words- again.

Just leaving my hotel room for my flight back to Toronto. Looks like I'll be returning to the heat.

See ya Tim.

Captain Doug

Anonymous said...

Captain Doug,

Thanks for the great tour of Air Canada Dispatch, I truly enjoy reading all your new posts, sounds like it was a great tour for those students!

Sorry about the crappy welcome in YYC, the weather has certainly been interesting this spring, I just want summer to start soon!

I've just booked a round trip on one of the 'baby' buses to SNU and back in mid-June with ACV and am looking forward to some AC hospitality again.

YYC Dispatcher

Tim said...

Crown moulding, chair rail, things on top of the door frame that I don't know the name of...he's quite the craftsman. You are too, obviously! You did a great job with the house!

It's been warm enough just down here in PA. Last week we had 80s to 90 degrees F.

Showed the Dispatch stuff to my Dx friend, Mike. He liked it.

See ya,


From the Flight Deck said...

Hi Tim. Took off out of YYC yesterday and it was only plus 5 C (40 F). Got some good bumps due a southerly jet east of Calgary on the climb to 35,000 feet.

From the Flight Deck said...

YYC Dispatcher. Thanks for booking with Air Canada vacations. Off to Santa Clara, Cuba? I had the pleasure of flying there on Christmas day two years ago. It has a long runway in the middle of nowhere.

With us basking in the heat in the east, the heat equation says someone will have to be colder than normal. Looks like you guys in Albert are the chosen ones. It's hard on the head to see deice equipment in use at the end of May.

Jim- McDonough GA,USA said...

Hi Captain Doug,
I have been reading your blog since listening to your appearance on the Airplane Geeks Podcast. Yes I am an airline Geek although I do not work in the industry.
Just wanted to thank you for the tour of dispatch.I have a pretty extensive collection of Just Plane Videoes including B777 and B767 of Air Canada. It was nice to be able to read of this behind the scenes as the flight personel did a great presentation from their perspective. Hopefully we will see you on the Just Plane series as that would really be a treat for the viewers.
Just a little curiousity, wasn't that a B777 in the picture?

From the Flight Deck said...

Hi Jim. Welcome!

That's a good idea about the Just Planes Videos. Myself and a publishing company tried to get a series of aviation documentaries airborne
but couldn't get the funding.

The B777 picture? I assume the one included in the post. Yes, it's a B777. I look for the triple bogie landing gear. It's FIN 734. The seven hundred series denotes B777s at Air Canada.

Thanks for checking out my blog.

Captain Doug

Anonymous said...

Captain Doug,

Quick question regarding AC Dispatch, are all Dispatchers checked out on all different aircraft types? Do all Dispatchers have to perform fam flights in each aircraft type each year, or only one flight system wide?

And yes, heading to Santa Clara, certainly looks on the pictures like it's in the middle of nowhere, hoping there are still some interesting aircraft sitting in the bunkers around the airfield!

YYC Dispatcher

From the Flight Deck said...

YYC Dispatcher. Yes, the dispatchers are checked out on all types, but there is more qualifications needed for overseas -solar weather for polar operations, ETOPS, etc. They have annual "desk" checks plus CARs mandates they do annual 'fam' flights and I'm certain it doesn't matter on what type. Some of them make it worth while and select a 'fun' destination.

The Santa Clara terminal is not big. From what I can remember, the A319 took up most of the ramp. But, hey, you're there to enjoy the fun in the sun.

Anonymous said...

Captain Doug,

As always, thanks for your responses!

With your upcoming change to the B787, are there going to be any changes to your location? Where is AC planning on having bases? Do you think your seniority will allow you to remain in YYZ?

YYC Dispatcher

Andrew said...


How many flights would 1 dispatacher be handling at a time? 14 desks seems like a low number. Does New York have its own desk because of the high traffic density?

I read in a book somewhere that Calgary is the only major canadian city to have seen snow every month of the year (including june, july, august)Lets hope thats not the case this year...

From the Flight Deck said...

Andrew. A dispatcher handles about 20 flights per shift with shifts being eight hours. The International desks handles less.

New York also includes Newark and probably Boston. Although much of that flying is relegated to Jazz.

I believe that about Calgary. The nice thing about the place is they get warm Chinook winds in the winter.

Thanks Andrew. Good questions/comments.

Captain Doug

From the Flight Deck said...

YYC Dispatcher. My next airplane will be the B767. But that seems like miles away since things are still stuck in the mud at A.C.
Some airlines are getting move up dates for the B787 but I'm told AC will remain with an arrival date of 2013...eons away.

There's no plan for base changes. Presently, we have bases in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver although many commuters would love
to see a base in Halifax and Calgary. My career will probably keep me in Toronto. It's the "land of opportunity." :)

Captain Doug

whywhyzed said...

But that seems like miles away since things are still stuck in the mud at A.C.

I thought pilots are retiring like flies at AC and you would have a decent chance of moving up soon. A friend of mine is a skipper on 67 and is moving to the 77 soon.

From the Flight Deck said...

Whywhyzed. Pilots are retiring like flies...for now. If age 65 is implemented you and everybody will hear a huge screech. That will be everyone, and I mean everyone's career coming to a halt.
But still no final word.

There was a recent nasty rumour of possibly 11 B777s arriving due to expansion. I would say pilots are like little old ladies as far as gossip but that might offend someone. :)
But we are. In fact, many initial conversations start with, "any rumours?" As the saying goes, don't believe anything until it is sitting on the ramp.

Here's some words from one of our union gurus:

"We are in fact seeing an international expansion taking place right now. We have launched a number of new routes this summer and I know the Company is looking at other destinations for next year. However, the aircraft utilization is very high and maybe even too aggressive. If the Company is to grow at the pace that Rovinescu wants, it will require more uplift and more B777's. However, this may not come to fruition and we will have to be satisfied with more gradual and incremental growth for the next few years."

Translation. The company is flying us harder.

That's why I'm seeing muddy roads.

But having said all this, expansion could be around the corner. Hey, you can't blame a guy for wishful thinking. :)

Captain Doug