Cure Air Traffic Congestion: A Systems Based Solution?


Air traffic. Just the word combination seems ridiculous. What miserably planned series of events have conspired to create traffic- in the air?

"Air traffic congestion around the world is already very bad and it's getting worse," said Kagan Tumer, an OSU associate professor of mechanical engineering and expert on the control of large, multi-agent systems. "More than 40,000 flights a day move through U.S. airspace. Air traffic controllers have an extremely demanding job to do, and our approach is a new way to assist them, with what are actually some fairly minimal changes to the existing system."

Their approach takes into account the entire system or flow of transportation around the U.S., not just a small section of airspace.

"In the current system, air traffic controllers have some awareness of things like major airport closures, but they have to make multiple decisions about how to move and re-route traffic just based on their experience," Tumer said. "That's better than nothing, but you have 16,000 air traffic controllers at more than 5,000 public airports making different decisions with very little information to help guide them. The end result is decisions that are not always optimal for the larger, national needs."

The new conceptual system would be designed to give air traffic controllers the tools necessary to optimize the flow of air travel over an entire country or region. The computer simulations of such a strategy are tantalizing, showing 67% reduction in congestion. This reduction equates to billions of dollars saved and hundreds of thousands of hours of less time spent in airports, and airplanes.

The 'systems approach' idea is emerging as a common thread in solving air travel congestion. Understanding and managing the systems of travel is an important aspect for many of our increasingly congested travel options. Yet it remains to be seen how air travel can be off-set, reduced, optimized, or scaled in order to meet the demands of industry and the environment. This research appears to brings us a small step forward.

::OSU News

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