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Exploring an opportunity, discovering a career

When Piedmont Airlines CEO Eric Morgan spoke about the success of Piedmont’s pipeline programs to team members in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, one of the programs sparked an interest in Flight Pay Specialist Erin Grayson. Although Erin wasn’t familiar with the role of a dispatcher, the Dispatcher Trainee Program sounded like a great opportunity to learn more about airline operation. She applied to the program, was selected, completed the 12-week training, and is now thriving on the next leg of her aviation journey as a federally certified dispatcher.

Flying from the East Coast to the West Coast regularly as a child, Erin became a seasoned traveler and always had an interest in aviation. Some of her extended family members worked as flight attendants and she also aspired to become a flight attendant, until she learned she did not meet the height requirement.

Deciding to pursue other opportunities, she obtained her associate degree in general studies from Harrisburg Area Community College with an interest in languages. Erin speaks Arabic and studied in China, where she learned Chinese. After graduation, she taught English at a Chinese university and worked in higher education, focused on financial aid and veteran benefits.

During the COVID pandemic, Erin began contemplating what was important for her. “I wanted to be happy and work in an environment where I could grow, so I began looking at airline jobs,” she reflects.

Erin joined Piedmont in November 2022 as a Flight Pay Specialist working in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Shortly after, Erin heard about the Dispatcher Trainee Program from Eric Morgan and wanted to learn more about it. “I wasn’t quite sure what a dispatcher’s role was, so I researched it online,” shares Erin. “I learned that dispatchers monitor weather, develop flight plans and follow flights from beginning to end. Essentially a dispatcher is the flight captain’s eyes on the ground; I anticipate their needs to ensure a timely and safe departure and arrival as well as aid in the event of an emergency.”

Additionally, to fuel her interest she attended an open house at Piedmont’s headquarters in Salisbury, Maryland and spoke with Jason Culver, Piedmont’s Director of Operational Control. When the next Dispatcher Trainee class was announced for September 2023, Erin was excited where this opportunity could take her career and applied and was selected to participate.

Since inception, the Dispatcher Trainee Program has created a pathway for 20 candidates to pursue a career as a flight dispatcher with Piedmont. The program brings the training class to Piedmont’s Operations Control Center in Salisbury at no cost to trainees who are selected for the program. Once trainees obtain their Dispatch certificate, they are guaranteed a job with Piedmont.

Erin immersed herself into six weeks of classroom training followed by a month of ground school. To wrap up her training, she was required to work side-by-side with a seasoned dispatcher for two weeks. She succeeded in her training and was signed off to work the desk alone on December 26.

“I love everything about the job,” shares Erin. “No one can describe the job to you until you actually do it. When you finally start doing it, you have an ‘a-ha’ moment where it all comes together.”

As a dispatcher, Erin works 10-hour shifts over four days which means she has 3 days off in a row. “The best perk of being a dispatcher is that I can ride in the flight deck jump seat which allows me to get on more flights when non-revenue traveling.”

Her previous knowledge as a Flight Pay Specialist has helped her in her role as a dispatcher. “I had a relationship with many of our pilots which has been helpful; as a dispatcher, I communicate with the flight captains,” shares Erin. “Having been on the other side makes me more empathetic to looking at situations from their point of view. When I jump seat, I still get questions about Flight Pay,” she says with a smile.

She recommends anyone interested in becoming a dispatcher to research what a dispatcher does. “I watched many videos on YouTube. I also learned that this job requires time management and if you have a lot of other commitments, this job may be a challenge.” Erin advocates that a good candidate for a dispatcher position should have good attention to detail, have a willingness to learn continuously, and be punctual. “You will be trained but you must have the willingness to take the time to learn.”

Erin enjoys using her company travel benefits and likes that Salisbury has direct flights to large hubs like Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Charlotte, North Carolina. She is an active member of the Black Professionals Network Employee Resource Group and this past February, spoke on a panel to HBCU college students attending Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte about black aviation professionals.

“No matter what department I’ve worked in at Piedmont, the one thing that I enjoy most about working for this company is that we all look out for each other like a family.”