When we think of the many professionals who staff an airport, a number come readily to mind, including flight attendants, pilots, air traffic controllers, and ground personnel. But there’s one very important job that you may not have heard of: flight coordinator. What do they do and why are they so essential?
To get some idea, think of a wedding planner, who is in constant contact with lots of other people involved in various aspects of the event, and helps coordinate them so that everything goes perfectly. The flight coordinator’s responsibility, though, is much greater still, both in terms of scope of activity and what’s at stake – namely, the safe transportation of thousands of air passengers per day. Essentially, they supervise and coordinate all the necessary procedures and tasks that need to be done while the aircraft is on the ground (i.e., the so-called handling operations) and make sure they’re carried out in the correct order, on schedule – in fact, as quickly as possible. Their responsibility starts from the moment the aircraft lands until it takes off again, and they need to be ready for any unforeseen issues and resolve them quickly.
When every aircraft lands, the flight coordinator makes sure that ground personnel are in place for unloading baggage and cargo as well as disembarking passengers – and that passenger disembarkation and transfer systems such as stairs, jetways, and buses are ready and waiting. They also coordinate everything that needs to be done for the aircraft’s next flight:
Refueling. Resupplying an aircraft with fuel for its next flight can be done either by tanker trucks or by pumping it from refuelling points throughout the airport. The refuelling operation is quick, and the flight coordinator must make sure that it doesn’t cause delays due to, for example, fuellers not being informed of the aircraft’s correct arrival time or the exact amount of fuel required.
Cabin cleaning. This activity involves more coordination than ever in times of COVID-19, since in addition to the usual cleaning, special disinfection is required (a protocol extensively detailed in the IATA standards of January 2021). It is essential that this procedure is carried out as quickly as possible to avoid delays, yet also done with strict attention to detail.
Catering. The flight coordinator supervises the removal of the previous inflight food and beverage service containers and the resupply for the next flight.
Additional functions include:
Coordination with ticket agents. The personnel in charge of checking tickets and arranging boarding also need to be in communication with the flight coordinator. Unforeseen things can happen – such as a passenger boards the wrong flight; tries to board a flight they don’t have a ticket for; or presents boarding data which doesn’t match. As a result of this comunication, the coordinator will generate a load plan that they then pass on to the crew.
Preparation of a detailed report on the flight.
Avoiding delays. The weather, along with the peculiarities of a particular flight or airport, may cause schedules to change. It’s up to the coordinator to reduce the time lost by such incidnets as much as possible.
Communication with the cabin crew. Crews are usually very punctual, but sometimes they may come from a previous trip and are delayed for reasons beyond their control. The flight coordinator must keep in constant contact with them to ensure that the schedule is met.
Coordination with the cockpit crew. The flight coordinator receives the load plan from the flight dispatcher and give it to the captain and his cockpit colleagues; it includes data such as number of passengers, amount of fuel, and weight of cargo and baggage. The coordinator also provides the cockpit with information related to the status of the aircraft and updates them on any possible issues that may arise.
Supervision of the ramp team. This team chocks the aircraft – blocking the wheels to prevent it from moving – and are also in charge of placing cones around the aircraft, connecting the ground power, organising all the equipment used in loading and unloading cargo and baggage. During all of this, there may occur delays, mechanical problems or lack of some material. The coordinator communicates with the ramp team to make sure that everything is in order and to be aware of any possible delays.
Monitoring of maintenance processes. The flight coordinator will also be in close contact with the mechanics who thoroughly examine the aircraft before it can fly again, so they can be informed of any problems that may arise.
Cargo control. Coordinators ensure that sensitive items (i.e., flammable material) are correctly loaded and labelled according to current regulations. They are also required to inform the crew of live animals on board and that the temperature in the cargo hold is the correct one.