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Reseachers working to make skies safer for flying


Washington : Researchers are developing an air traffic decision-making system that is not dependent on human controllers, but will act autonomously to optimise flight operations.

The computer model that Constantine Caramanis, professor at Texas University, lead researcher Cynthia Barnhart and other colleagues from MIT are developing, will monitor weather conditions as well as current airplane locations and probable routes.

“There is currently no unified decision-making framework for air traffic flow optimisation,” averred Caramanis. “The complicated nature of the process, and the need to make quick adjustments when changes occur, will best be addressed with a mathematical model that combines theories and calculations from probability, statistics, optimisation modelling, economics and game theory.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides each airline with a set limit of planes that can take off and land during any given timeframe. These slot decisions are based on estimates of what will optimise air traffic flow, taking into consideration imperfect weather predictions, the changing mix of flights airlines wants to move, and other variables for the thousands of flights. The airlines then choose the flights.

While developing the air traffic optimisation model, researchers will also consider new ways to lessen delays and flight cancellations. For example, they will consider the possibility of allowing airlines to barter for slots when one airline can’t get a flight off the ground and others could do so.

“The idea is to have an overarching optimisation model that allows balance and flexibility to the decisions being made so that we can successfully exploit whatever slack in the system we can,” Caramanis said.