Interview of a former flight dispatcher – Vincent Grondin

The aviation industry is composed of many jobs such as pilot, flight attendant or air traffic controllers, but there are other jobs which are pretty unknown, and very important for the functioning of the airport or an airline. One of our co-founders, Valentin Sierro had the opportunity to interview a former flight dispatcher, Vincent Grondin. He has worked for more than 20 years for a private company at the Geneva airport and he shared his experience with us as well as his thoughts on Urban Air Mobility.

Good afternoon Vincent, it is a pleasure to have you today. To start this interview, could you tell us more about you? What is your background, where you worked and what you do now?

Good afternoon Valentin, first of all, thank you for having me. Since my childhood, I’m an aviation enthusiast. I am born in Reunion island, a French dependency in the Indian Ocean and I was only 8 months old when I took my first flight which was a long haul (around 14 hours at that time) between my island and France.

My dream as a child was to become an airline pilot, but I was better in letters and languages than in mathematics, therefore it was a handicap for the French official aviation studies. To pursue my dream, I had another possibility which was the army, the French Air Force, but military pilots are required to have a perfect vision which was not my case due to my myopia. Hence, the last possibility left was through a private aviation school, but there again, I faced an issue as my family couldn’t afford it.

Finally, as I wanted to work in the aviation industry, I managed to get a job in an business aviation company in Geneva, which was exciting for me as I was in the heart of the operations. I worked there as a flight dispatcher for 22 years. After this experience and since 2016, I’m acting as an aviation consultant and trainer for airline operations. I provide flight dispatcher courses in aviation academies worldwide, and I also launched my own e-learning platform. 

It is a very interesting journey and it is amazing that you could pursue your dream of working for the aviation industry! You talked about a job which is relatively unknown from many people, the job of flight dispatcher. Could you tell us more about it? What is the job like? What are the main tasks?

Yes, it is a relatively unknown job and when I give a class, I always start by comparing a flight dispatcher to an invisible man. It is a person who performs many tasks, who must be assertive, supportive, polyvalent, stress resistant, rigorous and have an analytical mind. It is the hub of an airline; each airline company or private jet company have a department which is defined as the heart of the system. It is the Operation Control Center (OCC) or the dispatch center.

People often mix the role as a flight dispatcher and an air traffic controller. Even though they are called upon to collaborate in flight planning, they do not have the same function. An air traffic controller will work for an agency such as Skyguide or Euro Control and his work will be focused on managing the air, separating the traffic, the aircrafts in the air as well as ensure that they respect the rules. In contrast, a flight dispatcher is working for a specific company and is taking care of multiple and varied tasks. It goes from the whole preparation of the flight to the crew planning or the monitoring of the flight.

For instance, when you plan a flight, you have many tasks to handle in order to prepare an efficient flight. The following tasks help to have an idea concerning this preparation.

  • The request of an overflight permission if needed
  • The request of a landing permission
  • The arrangement of the ground services which are the refueling, the catering, the ground handling.
  • The planning of the route taking into consideration the air traffic and the rules which are related to the use of the routes chosen, the weather conditions in order to optimize the flight according to the wind and the fuel consumption. It is crucial to update the route chosen with latest information before to announce the flight.
  • The establishment of different scenarios in order to prevent any emergency during the flight.
  • The allocation of the staff on the flight.
  • A briefing session with the pilots is undertaken in which all the documentation regarding the flight is given.

Once you have prepared the flight and once the plane takes off, there is a monitoring phase because you must follow the flight and ensure the safety. You always need to anticipate which means that you have to follow up many information. For instance, you need to pay attention to the weather conditions in order to suggest another airport if the weather is getting worse at the destination. Another example is when the pilot calls you for medical reasons because a passenger needs to be on the ground as soon as possible. In this case, the pilot will ask for the best route to take, the closest airport to land in order to save this life.

Thank you for your description, we have now a better and a clearer understanding of this job. The next question is focused on the type of mobility we are promoting through our association and we would like to know if you have heard about Urban Air Mobility as well as eVTOL technology? What are your thoughts and expectations regarding this new type of mobility?

As an aviation enthusiastic, it is fascinating, and I am really impressed by the technology and what the human being is able to build nowadays. I am interested in this innovation and it is good that aviation becomes more popular and affordable to anybody, but we must always look at the most important point which is the SAFETY and it must always be placed FIRST. It is very important because it is not natural for humans to fly and it can be potentially hazardous. Therefore, there is a real need to prepare the ecosystem in order to have the highest standards of safety.

Another thought I have regarding this technology is the feeling of freedom that can be felt by the users, and I am thinking about how could we manage to share this feeling while respecting the airspace code and its users as well as ensuring the safety of everyone. According to me, the aviation industry is the most regulated industry, therefore the regulation will be an important point in the development of this innovation.

Moreover, as I said above, the regulation will play an important role in this field, for that reason, it is going to be important to build a strong and reliable framework as well as integrate this technology to the actual airspace ecosystem.

Regarding the rise of interests in this technology, how do you see the job of flight dispatcher in the UAM ecosystem? Do you think it would be a job necessary for an efficient use of this technology?

According to me, it will depend on the structure we have for the use of this technology. For instance, if you have an UAM taxi company with a fleet of vehicles, it is obvious you will need a flight dispatcher. However, if this vehicles are privately owned and used for private reasons, like the wealthy people using helicopters to travel today, then you will not need one and it will work as it is already working with the private helicopters. Nevertheless, as I understood, in the UAM ecosystem, some of the technologies will require a pilot license, therefore some people who wish to have it for a private use will have to comply.

Moreover, I have heard that the vehicle might be autonomous, therefore if it is completely automatic which means that he does not require a specific knowledge to use it because an Artificial Intelligence is flying it, a big issue will arise, and it concerns the responsibility in case of an accident. Who will be responsible for the accident? We really need to be careful about that and I think that granting a license to a specific person, so someone has the responsibility of the vehicle could be a potential solution. According to me, this is an important question and it is something that must be defined clearly.

And finally, I have one last question for you Vincent. Is there anything you would like to share with us? A personal project you are working on.

I have a personal project I would like to share. As I said at the beginning of this interview, it was my dream to become an airline pilot and, in my hobbies, I am what people call a simmer. I am doing some flight simulation and currently I am preparing a project of public flight simulator in Geneva, so I cannot give you many details, but it is an important personal project and we hope to open it before the end of this year if everything goes well.

Many thanks for these very interesting insights! We wish you all the best for your future career in aviation.