LUMS experts lead new drive to unlock airport capacity and tackle congestion

Airport congestion

19 March 2015

A major £2.8 million project led by researchers from LUMS is to find ways to address the UK's airport congestion – without relying solely on new airport building and expansion. 

The OR-MASTER Programme Grant (Mathematical Models and Algorithms for Allocating Scarce Airport Resources) is to be led by a team at Lancaster University Management School, working with Computing, Science and Mathematics researchers at the University of Stirling. The research has been funded by the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) in response to growing concerns over airport capacity, rising demand, and the impact of congestion on both the travelling public and the air transport industry.

The work will build on the UK's world-leading expertise in Operational Research to find the most efficient ways to schedule flights, developing and testing new models and solution algorithms that take into account all the factors involved in the allocation of flight 'slots': individual airport operations, networks of airports, airline operations, air traffic management systems, airport authorities, civil aviation authorities, airlines and the travelling public.

Project lead Professor Konstantinos G Zografos at Lancaster University Management School, said: “Existing approaches to airport slot allocation do not consider all the real-world complexity involved. Therefore, there is room to improve airport capacity utilization which will benefit airlines, airports and the travelling public.

“It will support policy makers and air transport decision makers here and overseas in getting to grips with airport congestion and in optimally allocating scarce airport resources. The air transport industry generally will benefit from acquiring a better understanding of the trade-off between capacity utilisation, and passenger and airline schedule  delays.

Professor Kevin Glazebrook from Lancaster University Management School said:

“There is an international research effort to find solutions to a problem that's high on the agenda for air transport decision and policy makers globally. With its reputation in Operational Research, the UK should be leading the way in meeting this challenge, and the new funding will help us do that.”

Professor Edmund Burke will lead the project at the University of Stirling, where he is Senior Deputy Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

Professor Burke said: “It is recognised that as economies grow and as the need for air travel grows, greater capacity at airports is required. We are delighted to receive this grant, which will investigate - from a mathematical and computational perspective - whether capacity management is being realised as efficiently and effectively as possible.

“By incorporating the needs of a wide variety of stakeholders, including air space operators, airports, airlines and travellers, we aim to produce a better solution not just for the UK, but for the wider international community.”

Over the six years of the project, OR-MASTER will involve close collaboration between Lancaster University, the University of Stirling, and a host of organisations internationally that will support the project providing real-world data, insights and expertise: National Air Traffic Services (NATS) in the UK; Eurocontrol (managing air traffic across Europe); Park Air Systems; KLM Air France; Zurich Airport and Athens International Airport; the research organisations linked to the national air navigation services for Italy and Spain (SICTA and CRIDA); SESAR (Single European Sky research body); the Airport Services Association; Goldair Handling; ACI Europe (Airports Council International); the HALA! SESAR network of leading researchers in Europe working in the area of Air Traffic Management automation; NEXTOR II (National Centre of Excellence for Aviation Operations Research); the MIT International Centre for Air Transport Research (MIT-ICAT) in the USA; and DLR, the German Airspace Research Centre. The project represents a strong partnership between academia, the air transport industry and policy makers.

At Lancaster OR-MASTER will be undertaken by the Centre for Transport and Logistics (CENTRAL) Research (a newly established research centre in the Department of Management Science), and will link into existing Operational Research-related development initiatives and expertise at Lancaster: the STOR-i doctoral training centre (one of the new generation of Centres for Doctoral Training supported by funding from the EPSRC) and the Lancaster Data Science Institute, which is generating new interdisciplinary approaches to address data-driven research challenges around the world. At the University of Stirling, OR-MASTER will be undertaken by the CHORDS (Computational Heuristics, Operational Research and Decision Support) research group. Formed in 2011, it explores and develops computational search methodologies and models that emerge from studying the complexity and uncertainty of real world scheduling, optimisation and decision support problems. Members have strong connections with leading UK universities and internationally-renowned industrial partners.

OR-MASTER will create opportunities for 12 new researchers across both institutions to gain experience with international research centres and air transport industry organizations.

EPSRC Chief Executive Professor Philip Nelson said:

“Put simply, world-class projects like this help to make the UK the best place in the world to research, discover and innovate. This investment will fuel the UK’s technological progress, help address the challenges of today and tomorrow, and contribute to a strong economy.”