I am sure you have read by now that Southwest Airlines flight 4013 from Chicago Midway airport to Branson, MO landed at the wrong airport. As I said in my post Landing at the Wrong Airport is More Common Than You Might Think, this wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. I am relived that the pilots were able to stop the aircraft on the short runway and there were no injures to the passengers or the crew. I was surprised to hear that a dispatcher was reported to be in the jumpseat of the flight. There has been some backlash from the media regarding people other than pilots to sit in the jumpseat.
I feel the greatest privilege and benefit that I have as a dispatcher is access to a flight’s jumpseat. The reason a flight dispatcher is allowed to sit in the cockpit comes straight from the Federal Aviation Regulations. FAR 121.463 states: “No certificate holder conducting domestic or flag operations may use any person, nor may any person serve, as an aircraft dispatcher for a particular airplane group unless that person has, with respect to an airplane of that group, satisfactorily completed the following: (2) Operating familiarization consisting of at least 5 hours observing operations under this part from the flight deck or, for airplanes without an observer seat on the flight deck, from a forward passenger seat with headset or speaker. This requirement may be reduced to a minimum of 21⁄2 hours by the substitution of one additional takeoff and landing for an hour of flight”
This requirement for the flight dispatchers to observe the operations on the “routes they would normally dispatch” enhances the dispatcher’s knowledge of pilot procedures and allows dispatchers to see the procedures for flying in different types of airspace. When I first became a dispatcher I did not know what it was like to fly a jet aircraft, I had only flown small prop aircraft. Even though I had a commercial pilot certificate I was far from being certified to fly the aircraft that I was now dispatching. The jumpseat requirement allowed me to understand the performance and complexity of flying a jet.
A few years ago I took my annual jumpseat ride to Mumbai, India. I had been working the flight to Mumbai for about 6 months before I went on my jumpseat ride. I really learned and understood the procedures that I needed to follow and provide the pilots for the high terrain over Turkey and the overflight procedures for flying over Iran. The only way for me to fully experience that route was to actually fly it from the jumpseat. That jumpseat experience changed how I worked that flight. After I returned from that trip I was able to provide more useful release remarks on my flight plans and I was able to accurately and confidently brief the pilots who had never been to BOM.
As you can see these jumpseat rides can be very useful and informative. Not only can we sit in the jumpseat for our required trip but this requirement opens the jumpseat up to us for personal travel. This personal travel is what allows me to get where I am going when the flights are full. Sometimes I will choose to sit in the jumpseat to allow other standby passengers to get on the aircraft. Every time I ride a jumpseat I see it as an opportunity to learn something new or to help the crew if needed.
While I do not know what happened on the Southwest flight that landed at the wrong airport, I do not think it will be prevented from happening again by banning jumpseat riders from the flight deck.