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Flight dispatchers must weather dangerous skies and typhoons

Published on Thursday, 15 Sep 2011
Illustration: Bay Leung

Everyday, more than 850 flights and 140,000 passengers pass through Hong Kong International Airport. The Chek Lap Kok facility is famous for being one of the most efficient and well-managed airports in the world - success partly due to a professional team of flight dispatchers who are unheralded but who, nonetheless, form an integral part of operations. 

"Without us, passengers would not be able to travel as efficiently," says Ron Lee, a flight dispatcher who works for an airline. "We prepare the flight documents of the crew before their trips. I need to prepare the flight plan, weather forecast and the notice to airmen - information that might affect the flight for the crew. I am the primary contact for flight crew who are seeking further information, such as weather conditions and reroutes." 

The toughest time for dispatchers is when the skies turn grey. "During bad weather such as a typhoon, we have to prepare alternate flight plans. It is particularly hectic after a typhoon," says Lee. 

Depending on rotation, flight dispatchers are assigned to monitor the weather, work on the airmen's notice, generate flight plans or dispatch flights.

"Dispatchers work in teams. They are good team players and communicators. A good command of English is essential and they must also have a passion for aviation," Lee adds.

Academic requirements can be as modest as Form Five. But a degree or diploma, in any discipline and particularly in mathematics or engineering, is an advantage. On-the-job training is provided.

Newcomers start as junior dispatchers and receive four to six months of training. With experience, he or she can progress to becoming a dispatcher and, subsequently, a senior dispatcher, responsible for constructing flight plans. 

"The positions above senior dispatcher are duty dispatch manager and manager of navigation services. Managers watch over dispatch operations and act as extra manpower, if required. The job helps you learn a lot about aviation. If, one day, you would like to become a pilot, what you have learned will definitely be useful." 

Lee adds that the pay for a junior dispatcher is around HK$10,000. A dispatcher makes around HK$15,000 and a senior dispatcher, HK$20,000 to HK$25,000. Duty managers earn around HK$30,000. 

Like most jobs in aviation, a dispatcher works around the clock. Shift duty, including an overnight shift, is required and each shift is around eight hours. 

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