May 31, 2021
Operational Control vs. Operations Control
The article below was written by Tamas Oroshazi and posted with his kindly permission, also available at https://opsbox.org/
created by Victor Naumov.
It is only a few letters that throw the entire industry of aviation into turmoil when it comes to defining airline operations control. Aviation, being one of the most regulated and monitored industries in the world, surely must have some regulations to shed light on the confusion. Sadly, this is not the case. On the contrary, it is the actual legislation combined with very unfortunate wording that serves as solid ground for confusion. To draft a potential training program for airline operations controllers, it's legal background needs to be clarified first.
It is above discussion that the leading organisation of all aviation-related jurisdiction is the Federal Aviation Administration – the FAA – of the United States of America. Historically at least. The FAA, and it's legal predecessor, the Civil Aeronautics Authority, were the first ones to create a legal framework for flight dispatchers starting from 1937. And this is where the confusion begins. Till day, FAA implements one of the strictest policies on flight dispatchers. Also, the FAA framework is one of the few ones, that shares legal responsibility of flight safety equally between the flight dispatcher and the pilot in command. So, where is the confusion, one could – and should – ask.
The precise wording of the FAA regulation is (FAA §121.533 and §121.535): Responsibility for operational control:
- The pilot in command and the aircraft dispatcher are jointly responsible for the preflight planning, delay, and dispatch release of a flight in compliance with this chapter and operations specifications.
This regulation was first worded in 1964 and then amended in 1996. And this is the mother of all confusions in the industry, in my opinion. It describes the operational control of a flight
, not the operations control of an airline
. The regulation continues, of course, and details what is to be understood by the above definition.
The Internation Civil Aviation Organisation, the ICAO, being the aviation agency of the United Nations, and the focal point for global legislation, has a training manual for Flight Operations Officers/Flight Dispatchers – it is the ICAO DOC 7192, Part D-3. The title of the document already suggests that the two names cover the same function.
Another key regulator, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency – or EASA – has a slightly different wording of operational control (Annex I, §91):
- Operational control means the responsibility for the initiation, continuation, termination or diversion of a flight in the interest of safety.
EASA does not define a title as the FAA does, and the full responsibility of the safety of the flight remains with the pilot in command. This practice has been questioned several times, and there is even documented evidence about EASA's point of view. EASA Appendix 1 to Opinion No 04/2017
Besides the vague and confusing definitions, there is a further complication to the whole problem. You can hardly do any safety-related job in aviation without having a license. The licensing systems around the world show huge differences when it comes to giving a name to this field. It varies between Aircraft Dispatcher, Flight Dispatcher, Flight Operations Officer, sometimes Operations Control Officer. Most of the authorities, however, refer to the same thing: the person who computes the flight plan – with or without legal responsibility for safety.
The General Civil Aviation Authority of the United Arab Emirates has a remarkable footnote – considering the percentage of licences that has to be converted locally, it is a wise sentence (GCAA CAR PART II, Chapter 6):
- The GCAA uses the term "Flight Dispatcher" which has the same meaning as the term "Flight Operations Officer" used by ICAO or other foreign Authorities.
EASA's point of view on licensing is the following (ORO.GEN.110(c)):
- (a) ORO.GEN.110(c) does not imply a requirement for licensed flight dispatchers.
- (b) If the operator employs flight operations officers in conjunction with a method of operational control, training for these personnel should be based on relevant parts of ICAO Doc 7192 Training Manual, Part D-3. This training should be described in the operations manual.
This leaves the member states and their authorities to decide whether they go with the above – loose – regulation, or wish to tighten their own policies further. Some of the authorities do choose the strict way and even say that only holders of their licences can dispatch aeroplanes that are registered within their jurisdiction. Other authorities do not have a licensing system of this field at all.
No matter which path they follow, these regulations are not covering the field of airline operations control, they all refer to Flight Dispatchers (I'm going to stick with this title in the future too). This is what I meant when I wrote that the wording of the position was unfortunate from the beginning.
Looking at the dates of regulations, we see that there has hardly been any change since the late 1990s, and perhaps, back then, the job of airline operations controller and the flight dispatcher were not that clearly segregated. Times and the industry have changed, however. The volume of traffic and the business complexity of airlines no longer fit in old regulations.
Just like aircraft materials, maintenance, pilot training or air traffic control, airline operations control also requires a modern approach. What are the exact functions of airline operations control, and how is it different from flight dispatch? I will go through that in the next article.