Flight Operations Officer/Manager

The Job and What's Involved

Flight operations officers, also known as flight operations duty officers or flight operations controllers, are part of the team responsible for the day-to-day running of their airline's operations control centre. They make sure that the airline has the right aircraft in the right place at the right time, with the right crew, ready to go.

Individual jobs vary between employers, but flight operations officers may be responsible for one or more of the following:

  • Dealing with serious issues that affect the airline, such as air traffic control problems and adverse weather conditions. This can involve rearranging slots when delays occur.
  • Monitoring aircraft to make sure that they run on time.
  • Forward planning to try to reduce disruption to the flight programme and its possible impact.
  • Making sure that every flight has the right type of aircraft and that aircraft are in the right place to receive the correct maintenance
  • Arranging for aircraft to undergo maintenance and, when necessary, repair. This involves liaising with engineering centres and others in operations control.
  • Making sure that each flight has the right number of suitable, qualified crew members. Flight operations staff devise rosters allocating pilots and cabin crew to flights. They arrange cover for any absences.

Flight operations officers are responsible to their duty manager or shift supervisor and may themselves supervise operations assistants.

Flight operations managers, also known simply as operations managers, have overall responsibility for the running of their airline's operations control centre. They meet with staff each day to discuss issues, oversee all major operational decisions and devise solutions to problems that arise. They also advise other departments of operational issues that may affect the airline's performance.

Flight operations staff work variable shifts to cover all the times that an airline's operation is active. That can include early mornings, evenings, weekends and bank holidays. In most airlines this also includes working nights. They are expected to work overtime on occasions when there are delays at the airport. They may also work on-call.

Most flight operations staff are based in an office at an airport, although a few work from their airline's head office. In small companies they may spend some of their time on the apron (the area where aircraft park), which involves being outdoors in all weather conditions. Their work involves sitting, standing and walking.

When outside they wear a high visibility vest. They wear ear defenders when necessary.

Starting salaries are around £17,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Flight operations officers and managers are employed by passenger and cargo airlines. The number of staff has been stable in recent years.

It is important that anyone seeking this work lives near an airport and has access to reliable transport. There are airports throughout the UK but there is a large concentration of passenger services at just four - Heathrow (Middlesex), Gatwick (West Sussex), Stansted (Essex) and Manchester. Heathrow airport handles over half of the UK's air cargo, with Gatwick, East Midlands and Stansted airports the next largest handlers.

Job vacancies are advertised in Flight International. They are also advertised on the internet on airline websites and on the website of the United Kingdom Operations Managers Association (UKOMA).

Education and Training

Entry requirements vary between employers. Employers tend to require or prefer candidates with some GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English and maths. Flight operations staff have usually worked in other air transport jobs.

A relevant qualification can be helpful. There are a number of qualifications that young people can work towards, full time or part time, that help to prepare them for entry to air transport work and eventually to flight operations work. Such qualifications include:

  • GCSE in Leisure & Tourism.
  • BTEC First Certificate or Diploma in Travel & Tourism - entry requirements are four GCSE's (D-G), or equivalent.
  • BTEC National Award/Certificate/Diploma in Travel & Tourism - entrants need a BTEC First Diploma in a related subject or four GCSE's (A-C), or equivalent.
  • BTEC National Award/Certificate/Diploma in Airline and Airport Operations - entry is usually with either at least four GCSE's (A-C) or a relevant BTEC first award.
  • NVQs/SVQs Levels 2, 3 and 4 in Travel Services - no set entry requirements.
  • SQA National Modules in Tourism or Travel and Tourism.
  • SQA Higher National Certificate or Diploma in Tourism or Travel and Tourism - entry is with four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and one A level/two H grades, or equivalent.
  • BTEC HNC/HND in Travel and Tourism Management - entry requirements are usually at least one A level/two H grades and three subjects at GCSE/S grade (A-C/1-3) including English and maths, or equivalent.
  • Degrees in travel and tourism - entry is usually with a minimum of two A levels/three H grades and three GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) in other subjects, or equivalent.
  • Postgraduate courses in tourism - entry is with a degree.

Some young people take a first step into air transport work through an Apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Newly-appointed flight operations officers are trained by their employer. The content of training varies according to the organisation concerned and the types of aircraft used. It can include areas such as flight planning and performance. Newly-appointed managers may be trained in leadership, team building, presentation and negotiation.

Officers who work for a company that is a member of UKOMA might attend the UKOMA operations officers training course. The one-week course is open to operations staff who have worked in a commercial operational environment for around six months. It aims to provide students with a thorough knowledge of airline operating procedures.

Flight operations staff may work towards NVQ Controlling Aircraft Operations Levels 3 and 4.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A flight operations officer should:

  • Have good planning skills.
  • Have strong communication skills, both written and spoken.
  • Be able to remain calm under pressure and when working to deadlines.
  • Think logically.
  • Be decisive.
  • Be quick thinking and able to devise alternative solutions to problems.
  • Be able to work well within a team.
  • Be reliable and conscientious.
  • Be able to cope with what is a stressful job.
  • Be capable of making sound commercial decisions.
  • Be able to prioritise.
  • Have keyboard and computer skills.
  • Be flexible when late changes are necessary.

Your Long Term Prospects

Flight operations officers may become a flight operations duty manager or shift supervisor. A few may progress from there to become a flight operations manager.

Progression for flight operations managers is limited. Some take on special projects for their airline. A few become operations directors.

It is possible to work abroad.

Get Further Information

United Kingdom Operations
Managers Association (UKOMA)
Website: www.ukoma.org

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