Features

Interview: Scott Ramsey, MD of flight despatch and operations control, American Airlines

17 Oct 2018 by Tom Otley
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American Airlines’ Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) Integrated Operations Centre (IOC) is responsible for all flights worldwide for both American Airlines and American Eagle – nearly 6,700 flights per day to nearly 350 destinations in more than 50 countries.

Scott Ramsey is its Managing Director of flight despatch and operations control.

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What do you do in this Integrated Operations Centre?

My team is responsible for making sure that our flights get our half a million customers each day from A to B in the most timely manner, safely and securely. This Integrated Operations Centre controls all American flights for the whole world – from Sydney and Hong Kong in the west all the way to Athens in the east.

And this is a new facility?

Yes. We’ve been open for three years. It’s an EF3 / EF4 hardened facility for tornadoes, it’s got new infrastructure, is very high tech and came about as a result of the need to combine the offices of American Airlines and US Airways.

What is the biggest challenge for your team here?

The weather.

We have to deal with thunderstorms, hurricanes, flooding, snowstorms, and trying to make sure that we increase our capacity and throughput [is important].

The other big change in bad weather is that the air traffic control system will slow down, especially in the north east, New York corridor, and as we slow things down we have to figure out which flights we want to operate and take care of the most customers to minimise the overall disruption.

How many aircraft do you look after from the IOC?

We run almost a 1,000 airplanes on the mainline and another 600 on our regional flights.

And when things go wrong, how many aircraft do have spare?

We have around 4 per cent of our main fleet spare and around 3 per cent of our regional fleet.

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Who works here?

There are 1,600 people in this facility and I’ve got a lot of people here who have 30 years plus seniority in the industry. It’s a highly technical job. On my team I have a Director of the IOC, for instance, and that person usually has been around the industry for thirty plus years and have come from an airport background so they understand how an airport works. They might have worked as a flight dispatcher, so they’ve figured out the fuel loads, for instance and routing, and had management experience at an airline or within this airline.

I also have sector managers who are essentially looking after one or two hubs [American has hubs in Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington, DC]. If you imagine the director of the IOC is more the head coach, these are the utility coaches, and as they are looking at their hubs which might be two small hubs or one big one such as Charlotte or Dallas Fort-Worth.

From there we have Operations Coordinators, and they are the people sitting in the units making all the economic decisions for the airline.

Then we have the International or Domestic dispatchers, and they are making the safety decisions for the airline, for each flight, the fuels load decisions and the routes they are going to fly. And they are the ones trying to avoid as much turbulence as they can and avoid weather as much as they can.

You can’t always avoid weather, you might have to go through a line of thunderstorms, but you pick where the thinnest spot is and the line with the least thunderstorm tops.

If this is the centre for the whole airline, where is the back-up?

Our IT is in-sourced and we have wholly owned subsidiaries, but as back-up – we have completely redundant systems, by which I mean duplicated systems. So it’s like an A/B switch, so if one goes down we have another ready to work, and we do random tests with that all the time. Hopefully both of those wouldn’t fail at the same time.

As far as power is concerned, we have dual power coming in from the north and the south, we have two back-up generators attached to the building, and seven back-up generators in the next building.

In fact, we have a back-up for everything apart from the toilets. We thought we had everything worked out, but about 15 miles from here they had a water main collapse in Fort Worth which took all of our water out of service including for the restrooms. We weren’t alone in being affected, obviously. As I drove to work in the morning I saw all the trucks coming down the freeway with portable toilets being brought in for all the businesses in the area, and we were one of those.

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