Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee Rick Larsen (D-WA) have written to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Acting Administrator Billy Nolen expressing their concern over the FAA’s decision to allow certain airline dispatchers to continue to work remotely.
“Together with air traffic controllers, airline pilots, and other aviation safety professionals, dispatchers maintain the safe and secure operation of tens of thousands of commercial flights in the national airspace system daily,” the Chairs wrote. “The decision to allow dispatchers to work from home, in potentially unsecured conditions, raises significant safety concerns that the FAA must address.”
Normally, FAA rules require dispatching duties be performed in operation control centers which offer a secure and distraction free environment that is protected from physical or cyber attacks and equipment capable of handling massive amounts of data. However, in the summer of 2020, the FAA granted exemptions allowing for remote dispatching due to the COVID pandemic. Now, with many federal pandemic policies ending or being scaled back, the decision to allow these exemptions to continue could present serious safety concerns.
The temporary authorization allowing for remote dispatching is set to expire in early 2023, but the FAA could decide to extend or make the authorization permanent.
“Dispatchers have a joint responsibility, along with the flight crew, for the safety and operational control of flights under their guidance. They track and analyze meteorological conditions in real time, monitor the maintenance status and performance limitations of individual aircraft and navigational facilities, assess airport conditions, and prepare dispatch release and flight paperwork to include alternate landing sites for every commercial flight in our skies,” the Chairs wrote.“It is not a job that can be easily performed from home.”
“At no point during this process did the FAA proactively consult with representatives of the dispatch workforce or ask for public comment prior to implementing these changes,” the letter continues. “FAA only briefed Congress after stakeholders raised these concerns to the committee. The FAA’s overreliance on the airlines’ self-reporting of operating conditions also presents significant concerns, given that inspections of a dispatcher’s residence are conducted virtually and potential distractions or safety hazards can be missed by the airlines or the FAA.”
The letter cites two examples of safety issues related to remote-working. “On May 5, 2022, a Republic Airlines pilot could not reach a remotely assigned dispatcher for approximately 30 minutes while holding airborne for weather and preparing for a diversion into Albany, New York. In a separate incident, a dispatcher working from a dispatch center was unable to leave their post for more than 12 hours— well in excess of the 10-hour duty limitation under 14 CFR 121.465—because their relief dispatcher, working from home, did not have access to their dispatch systems during unscheduled maintenance from their internet service provider.”