Schedulers and dispatchers conference not just a perk

 - February 2, 2007, 9:34 AM

As the industry was basking last month in news that business aircraft deliveries last year were up 16 percent and total billings up more than 19 percent, NBAA’s 16th Annual Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference was holding its biggest show ever.

“Flight departments used to consider sending someone to the conference a perk,” said Schedulers & Dispatchers Committee outgoing chairwoman Susan Ramsey.
“Now they’re looking at the conference as a training resource and they’re sending more new people.” One major flight department sent five people to the conference, and at least a dozen flight department managers felt the conference was sufficiently important for them to attend.

Schedulers and dispatchers, said Ramsey, are the real driving force behind the annual conference. She noted that the committee is made up of six subcommittees and a total of 26 members and that “there are always more applicants for membership on the committee than there are openings.”

This year, the conference in Reno, Nev., welcomed more than 1,500 registered attendees, up from 1,450 last year. No less important, said Ramsey, was the fact that this year’s event drew a record 200 first-time attendees, and that the number of exhibitors jumped substantially from 238 last year to 274 this year.

The importance of reliable scheduling, flight-tracking and weather-update software was highlighted by a software resource group’s user’s forum hosted by 12 companies. At least one flight department contingent included the company’s information technology specialist.

The keynote speaker at the opening general session brought with him a look at a future of scheduling and dispatching that might include space travel.

Dr. Peter Diamandis, chairman, founder and president of the Ansari X Prize Foundation, spoke of the recent success of SpaceShipOne in winning the foundation’s $10 million prize by making two trips into space within a 14-day timespan. Diamandis said the success is convincing evidence that civilian enterprise, not government programs, will take space travel to the next level.

And while regular trips into space for the average person may be some years away, a taste of what it will be like is already available. Diamandis’ Zero Gravity is offering earth-bound individuals the specially modified Boeing 727-200. During parabolic flight, passengers can experience weightlessness and sample the gravity on the moon or Mars.

Flights into space will one day be routine for schedulers and dispatchers, said Diamandis. The desire to explore new frontiers, he concluded, “is in our spirit and in our genes.”

Ed Bolen, who took over the reins at NBAA last year after the departure of Shelley Longmuir, noted that the first Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference 16 years ago drew only 89 attendees and no exhibitors. Since then, he said, the conference has become a “significant event,” underscoring the importance of schedulers and dispatchers as “vital links in our air transportation system.”

Warning of tough battles ahead for business aviation, Bolen urged members to contact their representatives in Washington, pointing out that in the weeks ahead NBAA will be posting on its Web site a sample letter as a guideline to such efforts.
He listed safety and security, the danger of greater government regulation, continued pressure by the airlines to implement user fees for general aviation and tax proposals that penalize companies for the personal use of business aircraft as among the most important issues facing business aviation.

Bolen told listeners that NBAA is pushing for data-driven solutions, rather than knee-jerk reactions that focus on the latest high-profile “accident du jour.”

In concluding, Bolen warned his audience against complacency, and urged them to take an active role in promoting the business aviation industry, and in particular tackling the most critical issues. “You don’t want to wait until the house has burned down to call the fire department.”

On the final day of the conference, the committee met to begin planning next year’s Schedulers & Dispatchers Conference. The event is scheduled for January 25 to 27 in San Antonio, and among the more important goals, said Kristi Ivey, incoming chairwoman, is to “find a place big enough to hold us.”