AVSIM Commercial Utility Review

Dispatch Planner III

Product Information
Publisher: David Baty
Description:  Flight planning and dispatch add-on

Download Size:
1.5 MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FS9 & FSX
Reviewed by: Josh Szkoda AVSIM Staff Reviewer - August 5, 2007

Long gone are the days where those among us who love nothing more than to simulate airline operations as closely as is possible, have to imagine the push back tug waiting for our command. We no longer have to imagine there are flight attendants doing their job back in the cabin, and no more do we have to imagine that a dispatch agent walks into the cockpit and hands us a piece of paper detailing everything we need to know.

Dispatch Planner 3 is your virtual dispatch agent, and it really couldn’t be made any simpler. Dispatch Planner III is totally revolutionary in the Dispatch Planner series. When I obtained my copy for the purposes of this review, I was expecting to have to play around with Microsoft Excel and make do with the interface of Excel, but no, David Baty has created a graphic user interface for Dispatch Planner III.

Gone, too, are the limitations on airlines for which dispatch reports can be created, there are now no limitations on airlines, neither are there versions of the program for either UK or American based airlines completely opening up the experience to however you choose to operate your virtual flying career.

Installation

Upon purchasing your copy of Dispatch Planner III, you’ll receive a download link to the 1.5 megabyte .exe file. When it’s done downloading it really couldn’t be simpler.

Running the installer requires you to press “Next” a few times, and agree to the EULA and select the destination directory to which you want the product installed. The whole process takes no more than two minutes.

When the installer is finished installing the components to your system, there will be one final screen, one of which is a button that allows access to the user manual in .pdf format. There is also a checkbox that, when selected, will run the program upon exiting the installer, it’s all pretty much standard stuff.

The manual is a good read, simply to confirm understanding of this new interface regardless of whether you have familiarity with previous versions of the software or not. The manual offers a comprehensive guide to the software; the first few pages describe the new user interface and the functionality of the four buttons on the immediate left hand side of the interface. The guide also takes you step by step through creating your first dispatch report; it’s very well illustrated and explains things rather well, good for both experienced simmers and the new guys alike.

It’s hard to go into any detail when reviewing the installation of this product, it’s just too simple – I feel like I should be making stuff up and describe a complex, intensive process whereby you want to rip your hair out, but in all honesty, the installation process is just too simple to be a struggle.

Getting To Grips With DP3

When DP3 is opened, the attractive looking user interface is displayed with an “Important” notice at the bottom, prompting you to visit the settings page if it is the first time running DP3. The settings window allows you to make selections for three different things, the unit to be used for weight, the format for how the date is to be displayed, as well as the version of Flight Sim you wish to use.

Playing around with the settings doesn’t take long as there isn’t that much to customize. The main customization I suppose, is being able to choose the unit used for weight, both KG’s and LBS are supported for users on both sides of the pond.

Choosing the correct version of Flight Sim within the settings is also important due to the fact that DP3 will scan the FS aircraft folder and retrieve information about your aircraft of choice.

DP3 connects to Flight Sim and will automatically get the Zero Fuel Weight (ZFW) of your aircraft, so when selected in the dispatch window this information can be put on the dispatch report. This is very handy for those of you who use FMC/MCDU’s. Other information will be printed on the dispatch report too, such as payload. The information is retrieved from the aircraft.cfg file when selected on the user interface.

At this point I should probably bring up that when I used DP3 to create dispatch reports for both the PSS Airbus and the Level-D 767 there was a very slow loading time the next time I attempted to run Flight Sim. I can’t say with any certainty that DP3 caused this as two other users I have spoken to could vouch to the same problem. I hadn’t modified Flight Sim in anyway, perhaps it was just something DP3 didn’t like about my environment.

After playing around with the settings, you should take the time to glance down the buttons on the left hand side to familiarize oneself with them. All the buttons are pretty much self explanatory, with an appropriate icon making things even simpler.

With the settings to your preference and the buttons familiarized, it’s time to create a dispatch report!

Creating A Dispatch Report

When you decide to make a dispatch report, you bang the “dispatch centre” button at the top left of the screen and stare in awe at the form that is presented for you to fill in. The more serious simmers amongst you will take great enjoyment in filling in all the details about your flight, and the less serious simmers will be only too glad to see that the form doesn’t require you to enter anything too perplexing, or anything you’ll need to go read up on for thirty minutes beforehand.

Filling in the dispatch report form starts off with the basics. You enter things such as your departure and arrival aerodromes, ICAO codes and your flight number. All pretty straight forward. The form then asks you for the flight plan you’ll be flying between the two airfields, perhaps if you’re used to flying direct via GPS within Flight Sim you might feel a bit left out here.

It would appear that David thought of just this when he was writing the program, as next to the flight plan entry field is a link that will take you to a well known route finder that is available for use free of charge, which can then, of course, be converted into a flight plan file and read by the GPS.

The form then continues with asking the type of aircraft, its registration, planned flight level, estimated time of departure and all the other basics.

Towards the bottom of the form, you’ll enter more advanced details such as the cruise mach number and the cost index, both of which might require some reading as there isn’t anything too helpful included within the DP3 documentation about what these things mean, and in all fairness aren’t common knowledge to all flight simmers, regardless of flying experience.

With a few more options selected, such as whether you wish the weather information to be displayed on the dispatch report or not, and a couple more items entered as data, such as the number of passengers and crew, it’s time to hit the big green check mark which will start to process the data that has been inputted into the form, and if requested, will download weather information and create your dispatch report.

For obvious reasons, you will need to have an active internet connection if you wish to download METAR’s for the airfields you’ve specified.

The Dispatch Report

When clicking the green checkmark for the dispatch report to be created, and after DP3 has done its thing downloading all the appropriate weather information, calculated your fuel and all the rest of the clever stuff it does, you’ll be presented with your dispatch report on a notepad-style looking page that is (unfortunately) read-only.

At the top of the screen displaying your report, you have the options to print, close, some other basic things, and the impressive availability to file the flight plan with VATSIM. VATSIM'ers reading this review will be aware of the pre-filed flight plan system, the dispatch report is linked to that page and when the option is selected all details that can be filled in, will be.

The dispatch report itself is a fairly professional looking document that gives all needed details, and I must say it looks not too indifferent from a real world one. Obviously it couldn’t be an exact replica due to the fact that each operator tends to have its own copyrighted format for a report, and also in the industry the report differs dependant upon the type of aircraft, the schedule, and the distance of the route that might be flown.

There’s too much variation out there for DP3 to be exact, but I feel it does an excellent job at conveying the information on a report as well as one might expect, the information really is first class and the way in which it’s displayed on a page looks very realistic.

The ‘Weather Centre’

The weather centre is simple yet effective. The weather centre asks you for both your departure and arrival airfields and allows you to enter up to four en-route alternates (RALT’s) and the standard ICAO 2 destination alternates (DALT’s). That’s the simple part.

The effective part comes into play when you once again click that ominous green checkmark to produce a weather report. As you can see in the screenshots, all the METAR’s are noted down for you to decide if all the fields are suitable to continue planning for, as that’s when pilots make their decision as to whether it is safe to operate the flight based on the weather at the time of planning.

The weather centre is great for providing an all in one place for the METAR’s and definitely saves a lot of time compared to doing it manually and entering those ICAO codes in possible multiple sources. The one thing about the weather centre I don’t like is that it has no functionality, or indeed any reference links to where the pilot can obtain enroute weather charts or diagrams, or don't many people do that?

Conclusion

Dispatch Planner III certainly is a mixed one. There are things I really do love about this piece of code, on the other hand there are things that make me want to write bad things about it. It definitely has potential, and I think if the dispatch report was to include things such as NOTAMS and more customization to the actual report; we could be onto a real good thing here.

Test System

P4 2.8 GHz
1024 MB RAM
Windows XP (SP2)
FS9

Flying Time:
Approximately 40 cycles creating a dispatch report

I hate the fact that DP3 is so simple. I really do find it too simple, its almost condescending in this day in age where a three year old can use a computer to have a program that is this simple, with no real user manipulation and to have a final product that’s ‘as is’ in that we can’t edit it, short of printing it and editing it the old fashioned way with a pen.

I feel this is one for people who are pretty new to advanced systems within FS. For example, I feel someone new to flying an advanced payware airliner would benefit greatly in their learning with making a dispatch report with this for their flights.

With this said, however, I must point out the accuracy and realism that the data contained on the dispatch report. Granted, the fuel calculations might be slightly too general, but other than that, it’s second to none. I really do believe that the dispatch content and format are superb. Sure it misses a few things, but for Flight Sim, it’s right up there. Your installation of DP3 won’t support both FS9 and FSX together, even if both are installed.

So would I recommend Dispatch Planner III? (I sat here for eleven minutes in absolute deep thought to reach this verdict – it was that touch and go!) Yes, yes I would.

 

What I Like About Dispatch Planner III

  • Great user interface – easy to understand and much better than it being Excel based
  • It’s useable – I can see myself continuing to use DP3
  • Superb functionality – links to all kinds of NOTAMS and Weather information
  • Ability to file the inserted flight plan to VATSIM

 

What I Don't Like About Dispatch Planner III

  • Few, minor bugs seem to spoil the general feel to it.
  • The price – I’m not quite sure I can justify the price for the product.
  • Only supports one version of Flight Sim at a time, not good for users with both versions.
  • It’s too simple.

 

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