From a customer perspective, a lot of what we do at American Airlines to make your trip a success is visible. From the agent at the ticket counter or gate, to the pilots and flight attendants onboard our aircraft, to the baggage handlers and mechanics you catch a glimpse of out the window, it’s easy to see there are a lot of folks working hard on your behalf. But I’d like to focus this column on some people you may never see, but whose work behind the scenes — seven days a week, 24 hours a day — is vitally important to every American flight. These are the men and women of System Operations Control (SOC), the nerve center of our global network.
Located in Fort Worth, Texas — not far from DFW International Airport and American Airlines headquarters — SOC coordinates the day-to-day, minute-by-minute operation of our airline. As you would imagine, with more than 700 aircraft completing in excess of 2,400 flights a day all over the world, that’s no small task. SOC’s challenge is to manage a complex, interconnected global network of people, aircraft, equipment, and facilities in an environment where change is constant. Working closely with their colleagues in Crew Scheduling, our SOC team builds a schedule that works for our customers and supports whatever changes need to be made on the fly. As with everything we do at American, the safety of our customers, our employees, the public, and the operation as a whole is the core value driving every decision made at SOC.
In recent years, we have adopted a lot of new, sophisticated technology to improve the way we plan and manage our operation, and to help us react to events with better and faster decisions. The true strength of SOC lies not in our tools, but in our people. It takes a lot of talented professionals, working in harmony, to make SOC and the American network function smoothly.
Well before an American flight takes off, one of our aircraft load agents develops a specific load plan that accounts for passengers, bags, freight, and mail. The purpose of this plan is to maximize safety by ensuring that takeoff and climb performance requirements are met. FAA-licensed dispatchers, organized around 27 geographical areas, ensure that each flight has an aircraft and a crew that are ready to fly. They determine the route of each flight, monitor its progress from origin to destination, and update our pilots on weather conditions en route and at the destination city. Our dispatchers’ jobs are greatly facilitated by the navigation database specialists who maintain our massive flight planning database.
Managers and operations coordinators develop and implement plans to deal with the unplanned operational events, or “off schedule operations,” that typically arise from bad weather somewhere between a flight’s origin and its destination. In all instances, communication is vital, and our air-to-ground communications specialists play a big role in keeping everybody in the loop and maintaining our communications network. Also vital are our dedicated air traffic control specialists, whose mission is to coordinate with the 22 regional Air Route Traffic Control Centers that manage the airspace our planes travel through.
While the activities of our SOC team may be diverse, they all share the same goal — to make your trip as safe and enjoyable as possible. You may never see them, but you can take comfort in the fact that they’re thinking about you and working on your behalf right now. And I know I speak for them, and for everyone at American Airlines, when I say thank you for flying with us today.