New scheduling model puts airlines on equal plane while easing congestion

Dartmouth News

March 27, 2018

Air traffic congestion that causes frustrating delays and cancellations can be reduced through flight schedules that don't systematically favor certain airlines over others, according to a new study from Dartmouth and Carnegie Mellon University.

The study proposes the first-ever scheduling plan to manage snarled flight traffic without prioritizing landing and takeoff positions for individual carriers—known as "equity" among researchers.

The research, published in the journal Transportation Science, uses game theory to explain the trade-offs between efficiency and fairness when airport authorities make scheduling changes. The study results are also simulated at one of the country's largest airports to see how well it performs.

"Equity in scheduling is important to the airlines as well as to the everyday flying public," said Vikrant Vaze, an assistant professor of engineering at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering. "An equitable scheduling approach ensures that passengers are treated fairly regardless of what carrier issues the boarding pass."

While weather, technical issues and crew schedules all cause operational problems, most delays in the U.S. are the result of high demand and low capacity at the busiest airports. This combination of limited infrastructure and heavy air traffic results in flight changes that cost airlines and consumers in the U.S. over $30 billion annually, according to a 2007 figure cited in the research.

According to the paper, existing solutions to ease congestion do not account for the impact of the schedule changes on specific airlines, resulting in the potential to benefit some airlines at the expense of others. The new research addresses this concern by integrating inter-airline equity considerations into the decision making around airport scheduling.

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