Connecting Flight

Ground Control

By Mark Dunkerley, Chief Executive Officer, Hawaiian Airlines

Shortly after departure your captain will be heard announcing something along the lines of “Welcome aboard today’s nine-hour and ten-minute flight. We’ll be climbing to an altitude of 38,000 feet and we’ll be tracking a little north to avoid forecast turbulence.” This likely won’t draw much attention, but in truth a lot goes into planning and monitoring our 250-plus daily flights, and much of it takes place in our Systems Operations Control Center (SOCC). In the SOCC we have maintenance controllers monitoring the health of our fleet and crew schedulers making sure that each flight has the necessary complement of crew. Operations control managers oversee the entire process and make minute-by-minute decisions. The planning and monitoring of each flight fall to our flight dispatchers.

At 2 p.m. dispatcher Rich Bridgnell arrives for his shift. Today Rich is assigned the Asia desk, and topping his list are four flights from Honolulu to Japan—one each to Narita and Osaka and two to Haneda. The first order of business is to address a message from Captain Brian Beres, who is seeking the latest Tokyo weather forecast and noting that upon takeoff his Airbus A330 aircraft was slightly heavier than was assumed in the flight plan. Rich confirms that the aircraft’s weight (including cargo, baggage, fuel and passengers) is fine for the roughly Four-thousand-nautical-mile journey to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport.

Turning to flights he must plan, Rich sifts through a broad spectrum of information: forecasts of winds aloft and weather not only at the destination but at each alternate airport along the way; notices of significant meteorological conditions (or SIGMETs); notices of airspace, runway and taxiway closures (NOTAMs); the maintenance record of the aircraft; and, of course, how many passengers and how much cargo are booked.

While setting up the next plan on his queue, a Honolulu-Haneda flight for Captain Maximo Alania Jr., Rich sees a notice concerning Midway Atoll’s Henderson Field, a designated diversion airport on the way to Japan. The airport is missing a wind sock. “I think the guys can do without that,” he chuckles.

Armed with everything he needs, Rich sets about planning the quickest and smoothest flight route, noting points when the aircraft, having burned off tons of fuel, will be light enough to climb to higher, more fuel-efficient altitudes. He submits his flight plan to air traffic control so that a clearance will be ready when the flight pushes back from the gate “We have easterly trades out of Honolulu and no SIGMETs en-route,” he tells Captain Alania, who’s on his way to Gate 27, where boarding for 232 passengers will commence shortly.

Computers play a crucial role in the process, but Rich says there’s no substitute for pilot reports: As he hangs up the call with Captain Alania, Rich sends a message to Captain Mark Drake, who is en route to Osaka. “How’s the ride been so far?” Rich types. “Smooth thus far,” Drake responds.

“That will make Max happy,” Rich says. As he nears the end of his shift, with Captains Beres and Alania still flying, he has begun to look ahead. “You need to prioritize,” Rich says. “It’s not just one crew, one airplane. We’ve got several airplanes flying at the same time. By midnight it will be busy, with Asia flights returning.”

From our ‘ohana to yours, enjoy your flight and mahalo for your business.