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Federal Aviation Association, or FAA, dispatchers are as integral to a flight's success and safety as the captains on board the plane. Dispatchers work for airlines to plan flight paths; inspect and sign off on maintenance repairs; and follow the flight's progress while in the air. They are responsible for delaying or canceling a flight when necessary, and work in concert with air traffic controllers to monitor the status of flights. Using information from air traffic controllers, a dispatcher can let pilots know whether they must be in an extended holding pattern before landing or divert to a different airport. To be certified as an FAA dispatcher, you must complete mandatory training, pass an oral and written knowledge exam, and pass a practical exam.
Complete Required Training
To become a certified FAA dispatcher, you must have at least two years of relevant operations experience or complete a certified training course. Your experience can include working on military and commercial aircraft as a pilot, flight navigator, meteorologist, assistant dispatcher, flight engineer, air traffic controller or flight service specialist. Training courses not only cover what you must know to pass the practical and knowledge tests, but also give you necessary hands-on experience. Some training schools, such as Academics of Flight International, provide on- and off-site training and supplementary online training. Other schools, such as Sheffield School of Aeronautics, offer on-site training courses that last between two and five weeks.
Prepare for the Knowledge Test
The written FAA dispatch certification knowledge test includes 80 questions that cover general job and aircraft information, such as how to calculate course intercepts, aircraft performance, crosswinds and headwinds, and fuel dump time. The test asks applicants to define terms, interpret reports and schedules, and prove overall mastery of FAA dispatcher rules and regulations. You have three hours to complete the exam, and you must score at least 70 percent. If you fail the exam, you must take additional training courses before you can retake the test.
Qualify for the Practical Test
To take the FAA dispatch certification practical test, you must be at least 23 years old and be able to read, write, and understand English. You also must pass the dispatcher knowledge test within 24 months before taking the practical exam; provide documentation of your relevant experience; and complete an FAA-approved dispatcher training course, or receive revalidation, within the 90 days prior to taking the practical test.
Prepare for the Practical Exam
Using the instruments you would use on the job, you must successfully create and complete a simulated flight plan for the practical test portion. You must take into account normal, abnormal and emergency procedures, such as redirecting a plane away from hazardous weather conditions. How well you demonstrate sound judgment, aeronautical decision-making, and dispatch resource management skills also factor into your evaluation, as does your aeronautical knowledge. Although the practical test is not timed, most take about two hours to complete. Study the FAA study guide, which is available on the agency's website. It outlines areas to study, what to expect during the test, and what to bring on test day.
Prepare for the Oral Exam
After successfully passing the written knowledge test and the practical test, you must pass an oral exam. The test, which usually takes two hours to complete, includes questions about aircraft systems, weather charts, regulations, principles of flight for group one and group two aircraft, and performance limitations. You must also answer questions about other dispatch-related abilities and job tasks.
- Federal Aviation Association: Aircraft Dispatcher Practical Test Standards
- Federal Aviation Association: FAA-Approved 14 CFR Part 65 Aircraft Dispatcher Certification Courses
- Federal Aviation Association: Airman Knowledge Test Question Bank
- Academics of Flight International: Dispatchers
- Sheffield School of Aeronautics: Become an Aircraft Dispatcher
- USA Today: What Exactly Does an Airline Dispatcher Do?
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.