Could new IT system revolutionise air travel?

Researchers are developing an airport operations system which they say could improve the customer experience at airports and cut carbon emissions.

They...

Researchers are developing an airport operations system which they say could improve the customer experience at airports and cut carbon emissions.

They say co-ordinating and computerising four key areas of airport operations could reduce delays, by making each isolated area work in conjunction with the others.

The aim is to computerise and co-ordinate four areas: scheduling of take-off; scheduling of landing; gate assignment and baggage handling.

Researchers, led by a team at the University of Nottingham, aim to produce a prototype search engine that analyses the billions of possible scheduling combinations. This will provide advice to air traffic controllers, who would use it to decide where in the airport to send planes.

Scheduling decisions are currently made manually by skilled staff using observations, reports and their experience. Each activity is run separately, increasing the likelihood that difficulties in one area will affect another. This leads to delays snowballing, a situation customers are likely to be all too familiar with.

The researchers hope the system will not just improve customer service, but save thousands of pounds a year on aviation fuel. The system should minimise the time planes are on the ground with engines running, cutting pollution and costs.

Researchers from four universities - Nottingham, Loughborough, Liverpool and Salford - are working on the project, which is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Staff at Manchester and Zurich airports are providing advice from a user point of view.

At first, the research will focus on building systems for each of the four activities, before working out how to run them altogether.

Principal investigator on the project and dean of the faculty of science at the University of Nottingham, Professor Edmund Burke, says the limitations of the current systems are widely acknowledged. He says, "Many people in the industry recognise that automating just one of these aspects could improve the efficient running of airport operations, so integrating all four would be a huge step forward.

"We'll be developing a computer system that will work its way through the many billions of permutations created daily in each of these operations, to provide a much higher level of computer-aided decision support than is currently available."

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