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News Link • Transportation: Air Travel

A Data-Crunching Prize to Cut Flight Delays

• Jessica Leber via TechnologyReview.com
 

A team from Singapore is taking home a $100,000 prize for developing an algorithm that could help airlines better predict flight arrival times and reduce passenger delays. The contest was sponsored by General Electric and Alaska Airlines.

Travelers are accustomed to long flight delays and cancellations for any host of reasons. Few realize that airlines themselves aren’t all that good at predicting when a flight will arrive at its destination even once it’s ready to leave the gate. Due to changes in weather, flight patterns, and bottlenecks, they are off by an average of seven minutes across the industry, says Gary Beck, vice president of flight operations for Alaska Airlines.

The winning algorithm—which produced flight arrival estimates that were nearly 40 percent better than current ones—could help airlines reduce gate congestion and manage crews more efficiently, and as a result could save travelers up to five minutes at the gate, say the prize sponsors. Each minute in reduction per flight could also save $1.2 million in annual crew costs and $5 million in annual fuel savings for a midsized airline.

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