In our Aug/Sept issue, Rob Erdos muses on float flying and we discuss night aerial firefighting. Plus: Air Canada in the pandemic, KF Aerospace at 50 and Canadians in the Battle of Britain.
Whitehorse-based carrier Air North has officially moved its dispatch operations in-house, to its headquarters in the Yukon territory, completing a dream that company founder and president Joe Sparling had since the company’s foundation.
“It was always a dream of Joe Sparling, our president, to have everything in the North. And even right when we purchased the Boeing [fleet] back in 2002, that was the goal,” said Chad Wilson, the airline’s chief dispatcher. “Joe has always wanted to totally try to develop the North. He’s trying to keep money here as opposed to sending it South … So he thinks investing in the local economy, ultimately, is going to be beneficial to Air North in the long run, as well as to the Yukon.”
Prior to making the switch, Air North outsourced its dispatching operations to a Calgary, Alta.-based dispatching service. According to Wilson, though the arrangement worked favourably for some time, moving Air North’s dispatching in-house will allow it to streamline operations.
“If a flight plan revision needs to be completed, it can be done in a significantly improved time span. When we’re dealing with the contractor down in Calgary, we’re not the only airline that they’re looking after. So we would put in a request for a revision and it may take a half hour to 45 minutes for that flight plan to come through. Now, we’re able to do that in like a five, 10 minute process,” he explained.
Another added benefit to moving the operation to the company’s Whitehorse headquarters is improved interaction between flight crews and dispatchers.
“This is an opportunity now that we are face-to-face. We’re talking to the crews before they actually start their day because all of our crews are based up here in the North. So they all check in here at the beginning of the day and they all check out at the end of the day,” Wilson said.
Though Sparling had always dreamed of bringing all of Air North’s operations under one roof in the Yukon, the wheels were truly put in motion in June 2019. The company reached out to Wilson — who previously worked for the airline as a contract flight dispatcher from 2002-2006 — to develop the dispatch centre. He recognized the first step would be to educate the local employee pool.
“A lot of people looked at dispatch as being something that was scary, somebody that has to be really highly trained and highly skilled should be the only type of people that are applying for it,” he said. The company assured potential dispatchers that it would take the time to properly train and certify them before tasking them with actual operations.
“It was more just a case that they were unaware of what dispatch really entailed. They thought it was this big, scary monster when in fact, it’s just a medium-sized, scary monster.”
In order to instil that confidence, Air North developed its own training program to educate potential candidates for the Transport Canada dispatch exams. This slowed the process a tad, according to Wilson.
“If we had only wanted to get dispatch up and running, we could have done it a lot quicker, but the long-term goal is to have that training program available up here so that we can train local people locally, develop, and as opposed to sending trainees South for training,” he said.
The program the company developed includes studying for the Transport Canada Flight Dispatcher Meteorology exam, taking a one-week course on operations and subsequent Transport Canada Flight Dispatcher Operations exam. Once the exams are complete, candidates can commence company training, including cockpit familiarization flights, groundschool and on-the-job training.
“That’s a minimum of 40 hours’ worth of on-the-job training,” Wilson said. “Since everybody’s new, it’s generally longer than that 40-hour mark, until we get them to the point where they’re comfortable to be able to do their dispatch competency check.”
For the first round of dispatch centre employees, Air North looked at its current talent pool, filling the first six spots with employees who were already in the company.
As for the dispatch centre’s location, Wilson said that although the building housing it wasn’t constructed within the last year — closer to five years ago now — it had been developed with dispatch operations in mind.