This section of The Aviation Vault documents, in detail, the early development of the dispatcher and how dispatchers became inherent to safe and reliable air transportation. Dramatic improvements to airline accident rates are attributable to many causes. Fatality rates per 100 million passenger miles flown declined sharply with better operational control, communications, weather monitoring, and operational oversight. A comparison with 1932 rates – 14.96 deaths per 100 million passenger miles flown (Serling, 1969) – demonstrates this steep decline. Rates fell steadily from 0.50 fatal accidents per 100 million passenger miles in 1952-1956, fell again to 0.22 in 1962-1966 (Serling, 1969, p. 47), then to 0.121 in 1975 and finally dropped to 0.034 in 1980 (Department of Transportation [DOT], n.d.). More recently, since 2009, the rate has been nearly zero (DOT, n.d.).
The system of operational control, exercised by dispatchers and flight crews, contributes significantly to this excellent safety record. Today, dispatchers undergo stringent training and certification. All Part 121 air carriers require operational control systems, both for scheduled and non-scheduled operations. Modern flight position reporting technologies and weather reporting systems provide dispatchers with more real-time information than ever before. The dispatcher today is able to utilize a complete and comprehensive view that includes more information than flight crews can access.
The Aviation article previously quoted in The Aviation Vault, “Flying With One Foot on the Ground” (1937) described the then-novel concept: "A properly trained dispatcher, sitting apart from the immediate stress and strain of flying the airplane, and with all possible forms of information at his disposal, has an opportunity to sit down and figure things out in a way that is not possible for the pilot with his many flying duties." (p. 72)
This research demonstrated how this early concept of a dispatcher’s role became reality. As air transportation evolved in the United States, the dispatcher’s role also evolved. Dispatchers grew from glorified radio operators to trusted ground crewmembers, enabling flight crews today to fly with one very important foot on the ground.