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Managing Air Traffic Disruptions Through Strategic Prioritization

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The costs of congestion in the U.S. air transportation system are substantial, with a recent study estimating these costs at over $30 billion for domestic operations in 2007. On the day of operations, if demand is expected to significantly outstrip available capacity (e.g., due to a severe storm), the Federal Aviation Administration implements Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM) initiatives to resolve these imbalances. The most common ATFM initiave enacted is a ground delay program (GDP). In a GDP , arrival slots into a congested airport are rationed to satisfy the projected capacity constraints. These arrival slots determine the expected delay for each flight, which is realized as ground holding at the departure airport. The current approach for allocating ATFM capacity, Ration by Schedule, treats impacted flights equivalently regardless of the aircraft size, passenger load, and mix of connecting passengers. We extend this approach to develop a prioritized rationing scheme, Ration by Prioritized Schedule, and show that significant benefits can be achieved through prioritization, even in the face of airline recovery responses. Subsequently, we develop a strategic prioritization game, a non-monetary, market-based scheme for allocating flight priorities which allows airlines to trade-off priorities across airports. Airlines make these tradeoffs by bidding in a proportional allocation mechanism. bIn addition to having nice equilibrium properties, we show that our bidding and allocation scheme is capable of achieving some of the benefits of congestion pricing, which has been widely studied in the literature but has met with significant resistance in practice.

Joint work with Doug Fearing (Harvard Business School)

This talk is part of the Optimization and Incentives Seminar series.

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