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A Day in the Life of a Dispatcher in Zurich

EMEA, Flight Services, Staffing

Owning an aircraft isn’t easy, and that’s why we’re in business. We speak with dispatcher Michael Thürler in Zurich to better understand how he helps make his customer’s experience seamless.

Michael, you’ve been a dispatcher with us in Zurich for six years now. Can you describe a typical day as a Dispatcher at Jet Aviation?

We are not a scheduled airline, so nothing is straight forward. It’s all ad hoc. The core fleet is operated under private rules with different states of registry, such as Bermuda, Isle of Man, Switzerland, Austria, USA, just to name a few. For a part of the fleet, however, we also function as an operator. In addition, we hold multiple AOCs which permit some aircraft to fly non-scheduled commercial operations. The challenge is to make all flights work within the scope of the various regulatory frameworks considering all operational aspects.

The dispatch team takes care of over 100 aircraft out of Zurich, with services including everything from full management to Flight Support, Trip Support and Fueling. The fleet is global, and each aircraft is connected to a particular VIP customer. Customers typically communicate all needs via their pilots or personal assistants, or contact us directly, and each one of them has individual needs and preferences. When they need something, they phone or email the dispatch team from wherever they happen to be, at any time of day, for whatever they require our assistance with. It’s often random and short notice.

Dispatchers also work in shifts, early, late and night shifts, so we are always taking work over from someone else at the beginning of a shift, which we then pass on to someone else at the end of the shift. And with approximately 12,000 airports in the world (12 in Switzerland alone!), you never really know what you’re walking into when you start the day.

That sounds both exciting and stressful. How do you stay organized?

There are 20 of us on the team, plus two managers and the travel office, which helps us with booking flights and hotels for our crews. And we all support each other.

We also rely on several tools, such as the Ops tool Avianis, which is a bit like a focused CRM tool that we use at Jet Aviation globally to plan and track the status of flights. It uses color coding to give a quick visual overview, with red for example noting the aircraft is in maintenance and therefore not available. For flight planning, we use Jeppesen tools, which are needed to calculate all the flight plans based on the existing rules, weather conditions, and customer preferences. Aircraft Fact Sheets are used to record all kinds of information about the aircraft, including regions or countries the customer would like us to avoid. And more recently, with the team required to support customers from home office throughout Covid, we’ve had to develop a common online directory and went fully paperless. Now all customer files are maintained digitally in platforms like Outlook and MS-Teams and others, to which everyone on the team has access.

If there’s no such thing as a typical day, can you tell us a bit about what you might do.

We’re basically the guys that arrange all the flights for our customers, whatever those flights might require.

As I said earlier, aircraft management in EMEA operates with multiple AOCs (e.g., Malta, Switzerland), , which means international flights often require everything from ground handling and passenger data details to overflight permissions and alternative flight plans. Every flight also needs to pass a feasibility check. For this we have access to a Risk Map, which gives a quick visual overview of countries and areas of concern, but when the situation is volatile, such as Ukraine at present, the status can change hourly.

Airports are also a concern, whether it’s their hours of operation, special pilot training requirements, especially in mountainous regions such as Samaden, Graubünden, or short or otherwise tricky runways such as in Paro, Bhutan.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role?

Arranging a crew or crew roster coordination can be particularly complicated, and short-notice crew changes can throw a wrench in everything. During covid, for example, if someone suddenly tested positive for covid, they then had to quarantine wherever they were. It’s not just a question of finding an available pilot or crew but getting them to the aircraft while negotiating country restrictions. Covid was a real game-changer!

Sometimes the only information we receive are two city names, "London – Dubai," for example. No times or dates, no passenger information, nor mention of the aircraft type. In this instance, the first thing we do is check the owner and determine a feasible plan for them.

What if you simply can’t meet customer requests. What then?

Customers want agility, flexibility, simplicity — that seamless experience. Our job is to find a viable option to meet our customers' needs. If crew duty restrictions prohibit pilots from flying on the date requested, we find another crew for example. If a certain aircraft isn’t available, we find another. We’re the ones that make it happen.

“Customers want agility, flexibility, simplicity — that seamless experience. Our job is to find a viable option to meet our customers’ needs. If crew duty restrictions prohibit pilots from flying on the date requested, we find another crew. If a certain aircraft isn’t available, we find another. We’re the ones that make it happen.”

How does one go about becoming a dispatcher? What skills are needed?

I have a degree in aviation, which helps, but there are lots of different paths. Dispatch licenses exist, for example, but are not required in Switzerland. No matter how you come to the job, there’s a lot of information to learn and absorb for which training and time is needed. You have to be open to learning on a daily basis.

You need to be both detail-oriented and analytical. One small missed permission means the customer can’t fly and you’ve got to be able to see from the outset what possible outcomes can arise.

You’ve also got to be both flexible and decisive. Imagine the caption of a U.S. flight enroute to Saudi Arabia calls to say they have a technical issue and need to land somewhere else. You’ve suddenly got to arrange ground handling somewhere in the vicinity in a hurry and start developing a new flight plan for that location. Being able to prioritize work is also imperative, as you had 20 other flights you were supposed to be working on that day and you’ve got to find a solution that works for everyone.

It’s not for everybody, but if you like a challenge, there’s nothing like it!.

What is your favorite part about being a dispatcher at Jet Aviation?

I love a good challenge and I like to learn, which is what this job allows me to do. I enjoy getting to know and working with our regulars and meeting new people in general.

Also, the team is really great — open, highly qualified, and just plain nice. If we can’t count on each other, the business model simply won’t work. I can approach anyone on the team for assistance without hesitation. And it’s astonishing what we regularly accomplish on short notice, especially these days!

Open communication is crucial – with the customer and with the team, particularly if there are any pending matters or concerns. We can’t wait a couple of days, hoping things will resolve themselves. The most important thing for us to do is to keep the customer informed. 

The shift work has pros and cons, but another really nice part of the job is that when you finish your shift, someone else takes over. This means that your free time is truly yours — and that’s really rare with challenging positions!


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