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The workload on all shift dispatch desks has reached unacceptably high levels. In addition; we are experiencing an unprecedented amount of computer problems. I have not worked a single shift in months without experiencing some form of computer problem; some severe enough to impact safety and some more minor in nature. We are not getting any improvement or even acknowledgement of the problems from management or those in it (the computer people). We spend a significant amount of time on the phone just trying to get someone to address the computer problems we are experiencing; our point of contact (it) is frequently unwilling to call programmers at home or disturb them while we are experiencing significant safety ramifications from the loss of ACARS; flight planning; or current WX data. Today when I arrived on shift at XF30 am the previous shift dispatchers had been trying to get flight plans all night. They had called it repeatedly all night long; beginning at XA00 pm; yet it was not until XH30 am that a programmer was called by it at home to address the problem. Today; while I was buried by workload resulting from a severe front impacting southeast alaska; surface winds gusting to 50 KTS; with multiple diversions; an inoperative fuel truck and red turbulence plots requiring altitude changes. We lost all ACARS data. Flts departed everywhere; including the stations most impacted by WX and I had no information on fuel loads; etc. It was not until over an hour into the outage that it called a programmer to correct the situation and this was only after being notified by the chief dispatcher that he was going to escalate report of the problem to his director. This type of outage or problem can be handled when workload is at acceptable levels; but at current levels the situation rapidly escalates. We had a safety audit performed which showed dispatchers working too many flts without the ability to get relief. Over time we have added flts and aircraft as well as significant additional responsibilities to the dispatcher. We are deluged with memos and pop-up warnings which alert us to ever changing requirements; we are not given any tools to reduce workload but instead are frequently expected to perform increasingly time consuming tasks. In the past; the chief dispatcher could relieve the dispatcher of some workload; this is no longer a viable option since their duties have kept pace with ours. Chief dispatchers are routinely consumed by flow programs; ATC conference calls; ferry flts and charters; etc. Dispatch has become the point of contact for all calls; even those totally unrelated to safety for the fodo; yet workload continues to increase. Whether it is slippery runway criteria; braking action; ETOPS; GPS; turbulence plots; increased MEL penalties being flown for days; leg specific tankering which requires pulling multiple flight plans; WX and load criteria impacting tankering; necessitating increased communication with operations; weight and balance with more lapses in operations falling to dispatch; there are many more examples not cited here. The bottom line is; dispatch has become saturated with work and it is now to a point where safety is being compromised knowingly or unknowingly on a daily basis. We desperately need to reduce workload; either by increased staffing or by acquiring much more sophisticated and reliable tools. The issues with reliability of dispatch products is critical. A contributing cause of this problem is the reliance on in-house products which are both inferior by design and have extremely poor support. We need to establish a much higher priority for the reliability of all computer programs; in my opinion this can only be done in a move away from in-house products. Ultimately we should have a system in place to continuously monitor workload; just as total numbers of pilots and flight attendants are tied to aircraft numbers; so should the total numbers of dispatchers.
Original NASA ASRS Text
Title: DISPATCHER RPTS INCREASING WORKLOADS CAUSED BY UNDERSTAFFING AND POORLY MAINTAINED AND DATED COMPUTER SYS.
Narrative: THE WORKLOAD ON ALL SHIFT DISPATCH DESKS HAS REACHED UNACCEPTABLY HIGH LEVELS. IN ADDITION; WE ARE EXPERIENCING AN UNPRECEDENTED AMOUNT OF COMPUTER PROBS. I HAVE NOT WORKED A SINGLE SHIFT IN MONTHS WITHOUT EXPERIENCING SOME FORM OF COMPUTER PROB; SOME SEVERE ENOUGH TO IMPACT SAFETY AND SOME MORE MINOR IN NATURE. WE ARE NOT GETTING ANY IMPROVEMENT OR EVEN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THE PROBS FROM MGMNT OR THOSE IN IT (THE COMPUTER PEOPLE). WE SPEND A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF TIME ON THE PHONE JUST TRYING TO GET SOMEONE TO ADDRESS THE COMPUTER PROBS WE ARE EXPERIENCING; OUR POINT OF CONTACT (IT) IS FREQUENTLY UNWILLING TO CALL PROGRAMMERS AT HOME OR DISTURB THEM WHILE WE ARE EXPERIENCING SIGNIFICANT SAFETY RAMIFICATIONS FROM THE LOSS OF ACARS; FLT PLANNING; OR CURRENT WX DATA. TODAY WHEN I ARRIVED ON SHIFT AT XF30 AM THE PREVIOUS SHIFT DISPATCHERS HAD BEEN TRYING TO GET FLT PLANS ALL NIGHT. THEY HAD CALLED IT REPEATEDLY ALL NIGHT LONG; BEGINNING AT XA00 PM; YET IT WAS NOT UNTIL XH30 AM THAT A PROGRAMMER WAS CALLED BY IT AT HOME TO ADDRESS THE PROB. TODAY; WHILE I WAS BURIED BY WORKLOAD RESULTING FROM A SEVERE FRONT IMPACTING SE ALASKA; SURFACE WINDS GUSTING TO 50 KTS; WITH MULTIPLE DIVERSIONS; AN INOP FUEL TRUCK AND RED TURB PLOTS REQUIRING ALT CHANGES. WE LOST ALL ACARS DATA. FLTS DEPARTED EVERYWHERE; INCLUDING THE STATIONS MOST IMPACTED BY WX AND I HAD NO INFO ON FUEL LOADS; ETC. IT WAS NOT UNTIL OVER AN HR INTO THE OUTAGE THAT IT CALLED A PROGRAMMER TO CORRECT THE SITUATION AND THIS WAS ONLY AFTER BEING NOTIFIED BY THE CHIEF DISPATCHER THAT HE WAS GOING TO ESCALATE RPT OF THE PROB TO HIS DIRECTOR. THIS TYPE OF OUTAGE OR PROB CAN BE HANDLED WHEN WORKLOAD IS AT ACCEPTABLE LEVELS; BUT AT CURRENT LEVELS THE SITUATION RAPIDLY ESCALATES. WE HAD A SAFETY AUDIT PERFORMED WHICH SHOWED DISPATCHERS WORKING TOO MANY FLTS WITHOUT THE ABILITY TO GET RELIEF. OVER TIME WE HAVE ADDED FLTS AND ACFT AS WELL AS SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES TO THE DISPATCHER. WE ARE DELUGED WITH MEMOS AND POP-UP WARNINGS WHICH ALERT US TO EVER CHANGING REQUIREMENTS; WE ARE NOT GIVEN ANY TOOLS TO REDUCE WORKLOAD BUT INSTEAD ARE FREQUENTLY EXPECTED TO PERFORM INCREASINGLY TIME CONSUMING TASKS. IN THE PAST; THE CHIEF DISPATCHER COULD RELIEVE THE DISPATCHER OF SOME WORKLOAD; THIS IS NO LONGER A VIABLE OPTION SINCE THEIR DUTIES HAVE KEPT PACE WITH OURS. CHIEF DISPATCHERS ARE ROUTINELY CONSUMED BY FLOW PROGRAMS; ATC CONFERENCE CALLS; FERRY FLTS AND CHARTERS; ETC. DISPATCH HAS BECOME THE POINT OF CONTACT FOR ALL CALLS; EVEN THOSE TOTALLY UNRELATED TO SAFETY FOR THE FODO; YET WORKLOAD CONTINUES TO INCREASE. WHETHER IT IS SLIPPERY RWY CRITERIA; BRAKING ACTION; ETOPS; GPS; TURB PLOTS; INCREASED MEL PENALTIES BEING FLOWN FOR DAYS; LEG SPECIFIC TANKERING WHICH REQUIRES PULLING MULTIPLE FLT PLANS; WX AND LOAD CRITERIA IMPACTING TANKERING; NECESSITATING INCREASED COM WITH OPS; WT AND BAL WITH MORE LAPSES IN OPS FALLING TO DISPATCH; THERE ARE MANY MORE EXAMPLES NOT CITED HERE. THE BOTTOM LINE IS; DISPATCH HAS BECOME SATURATED WITH WORK AND IT IS NOW TO A POINT WHERE SAFETY IS BEING COMPROMISED KNOWINGLY OR UNKNOWINGLY ON A DAILY BASIS. WE DESPERATELY NEED TO REDUCE WORKLOAD; EITHER BY INCREASED STAFFING OR BY ACQUIRING MUCH MORE SOPHISTICATED AND RELIABLE TOOLS. THE ISSUES WITH RELIABILITY OF DISPATCH PRODUCTS IS CRITICAL. A CONTRIBUTING CAUSE OF THIS PROB IS THE RELIANCE ON IN-HOUSE PRODUCTS WHICH ARE BOTH INFERIOR BY DESIGN AND HAVE EXTREMELY POOR SUPPORT. WE NEED TO ESTABLISH A MUCH HIGHER PRIORITY FOR THE RELIABILITY OF ALL COMPUTER PROGRAMS; IN MY OPINION THIS CAN ONLY BE DONE IN A MOVE AWAY FROM IN-HOUSE PRODUCTS. ULTIMATELY WE SHOULD HAVE A SYS IN PLACE TO CONTINUOUSLY MONITOR WORKLOAD; JUST AS TOTAL NUMBERS OF PLTS AND FLT ATTENDANTS ARE TIED TO ACFT NUMBERS; SO SHOULD THE TOTAL NUMBERS OF DISPATCHERS.
Data retrieved from NASA's ASRS site as of January 2009 and automatically converted to unabbreviated mixed upper/lowercase text. This report is for informational purposes with no guarantee of accuracy. See NASA's ASRS site for official report.