Reducing airport operations complexity using flight gate assignment

Operations research in aviation is home to one of the most notorious Mathematical Millennium Goal Problems, the Non-Parametric Hard Optimization Problems class.

The quadratic flight gate assignment problem in one them. Finding a practical solution to this problem increases passenger service and significantly reduces costs.

“Develop a software application to perform the flight bay assignment well in advance before the day of operations to optimize passenger connectivity and reduce airport operations complexity”

Situation

Mathematics

Solution

The flight gate assignment problem is a complex planning problem. For Kenya Airways this means that: (1) highly related flights with many passengers should be placed closely together, (2) critical flights with minimum connecting time should be placed together while (3) operations complexity in terms of aircraft re-positioning for remote refueling should be reduced.

A satisfying optimal solution under all operational constraints needs to be found.

The flight bay assignment exercise is translated into a mathematical NP-hard optimization problem. This is solved using linear programming techniques in combination with a custom-made semi-generic / airport-specific heuristic. A prototype software application is designed using Visual Studio, VB.NET and IBM’s Cplex linear programming solver, in combination with a MySQL database for storing the input and output data.

The outcome of the project is a practical graphical flight bay assignment schedule produced by the prototype software application, useable during daily operations.

The key during the software development was to successfully communicate complex mathematical information to key stakeholders including airline senior management, ground crew, airport and civil aviation authorities.