Load Planning Officer (Aircraft)

The Job and What's Involved

Load planning officers, also known as load controllers or flight planners, are concerned with seating passengers and locating cargo in an aircraft in such a way that it can take off, fly and land both safely and economically. They do this by producing information on the weight and size of freight and luggage, and the number of passengers on board an aircraft.

Load planning officers work closely with check in staff, who are responsible for weighing passengers' luggage, and with cargo agents who accept cargo for transportation. They use information from these staff to:

  • Calculate the aircraft's take-off weight, landing weight and its centre of gravity.
  • Plan the position of luggage and cargo in the aircraft's holds.
  • Decide which seats on the aircraft should be occupied if there is going to be a large number of empty seats.
  • Calculate how much cargo will need to be offloaded should the aircraft exceed its maximum operational weight.

Officers work on several aircraft at a time. They use computers with specially designed software that details exactly what the payload (the cargo, luggage and passengers) for the flight is and where it is to be positioned within the aircraft. This takes into account the types of cargo and the order in which it must be loaded.

They record this information on a load sheet. The load sheet is needed by the pilot, who has to enter the weight and balance information into the flight deck computer before the aircraft takes off.

Officers also produce a set of load instructions that are passed to the dispatch team that is responsible for loading the luggage and cargo on to the aircraft. The dispatch team will contact the load planning officer if any luggage or cargo needs to be repositioned (because it is particularly bulky or of an odd shape). In such cases, the officer enters the new data into the computer to produce the final load sheet.

Load planning officers work variable shifts to cover all the times that an airport is open. This can include early mornings, evenings, weekends and bank holidays. In the case of airports open 24 hours a day this can also include working nights. Part-time work may be possible. Officers are expected to work overtime on occasions when there are delays at the airport.

A driving licence is often essential in order for officers to be able to travel to the airport for their shifts.

Much of the work takes place indoors at an airport. Load planning officers work at a computer workstation in an office. They also 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. They may wear high visibility vests and ear defenders when working on the airport apron.

Starting salaries are around £14,000 a year. Staff are usually given free car parking. Some airlines offer their staff concessionary travel.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Some large airlines, such as British Airways, employ their own load planning officers. Most officers, though, are employed by ground handling companies that work on behalf of airlines. These may be large international organisations as well as small regional companies. The number of load planning officers is increasing.

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 handles over half of the UK's air cargo. Gatwick, East Midlands and Stansted airports are also major cargo handlers.

Job vacancies are advertised in Jobcentre Plus offices, in local newspapers and on airline and ground handling company websites.

Education and Training

Entry requirements vary, but employers prefer some GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English and maths. Evidence of computer ability is also helpful. Load planning officers have usually worked in other jobs at an airport, such as passenger services or load handling before moving into this work. Applicants are subject to criminal record checks to satisfy security requirements.

It is important that applicants seeking this work live near an airport and have their own transport.

A relevant qualification can also be helpful. There are a number of full and part-time qualifications that may help entry into air transport work and eventually progress to load planning. These include:

  • GCSE in Leisure and Tourism.
  • BTEC/SQA awards in travel and tourism and customer service.
  • NVQs/SVQs in travel services and customer service.
  • BTEC/SQA Higher National Certificate/Diploma in Travel and Tourism.
  • Degrees in travel and tourism.

Some young people enter air transport work as apprentices and later progress to load planning work.

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

Load planning officers are trained on the job, usually under the supervision of experienced staff. Training includes:

  • Instruction in the weight and balance concepts of aircraft
  • Health and safety.
  • The use of specialist load planning computer software.

It may also include instruction in the transportation of dangerous cargo, livestock and perishable goods, such as fresh produce and flowers.

Officers may work towards NVQ Planning Aircraft Payloads Level 3.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A load planning officer should:

  • Have good communication skills, both written and spoken.
  • Be able to work under pressure and to deadlines.
  • Have decision-making skills.
  • Be quick thinking.
  • Work well in a team.
  • Have good maths ability (to calculate loads in the event of a computer breakdown).
  • Be reliable and conscientious.
  • Have keyboard and computer skills.
  • Be able to work on several load sheets at one time.
  • Be flexible should late changes be necessary.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience load planning officers may progress to load planning manager, flight operations officer or duty airport manager posts.

There may be opportunities to work abroad.

Get Further Information

Contact your local airport to find out which airlines and ground operating companies employ load planning officers in your area.

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