Airport Design Class Team Wins FAA Competition

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded four undergraduates from Dr. Jasenka Rakas’ airport design class a first prize for their proposal to improve airport efficiency.

The award in the "Airport Management and Planning Challenge" of the FAA Design Competition for Universities, was presented during an annual summer workshop series sponsored by the FAA, Airport Consultants Council, and the Transportation Security Administration in Arlington, Virginia held July 13-14.

Civil & Environmental Engineering (CEE) students Andy Chou, Edmund Tam and Xia Xiao along with Industrial Engineering & Operations Research (IEOR) student Kevin Leung contributed to the paper, “Collaborative Gate Assignment,” which suggested airlines and airport operators share gates as well as real-time information on gate utilization in order to reduce the time, fuel and emissions that are wasted when an arriving aircraft must wait on the tarmac for a gate to open.

Rakas, who is Deputy Director of NEXTOR II at UC Berkeley, has taught the Airport Design (CE153) class within the University’s CEE Department for many years. This capstone class allows students to apply what they’ve learned from courses in civil engineering and other academic subjects to an airport design project that is equivalent to their graduation thesis.

The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, which eliminated government control over airline business decisions, gave airlines the freedom to set up flexible ticket pricing in order to maximize their revenues, as well as the right to re-draw air transportation network in the USA by creating a hub-and spoke system, explained Rakas.

As a consequence, the system enabled passengers to enjoy less expensive and more frequent services through transfer airports, but with relatively rigid gate-sharing policies among airlines.

“As a result, gate delays and gate unavailability during peak hours especially became issues at such airports,” she added. 

“Now, the challenge is to keep the existing business freedom that allows airlines to continue maximizing their local profits, while at the same time, enabling airports to reach their global system optimum. Our proposed collaborative gate allocation concept might be a good solution.”

The students and their mentors, instructor Rakas and IEOR Professor Lee Schruben found that Boston Logan Airport could save $17 million a year if the airport operator and airlines collaborated to share gates.

Panels of experts from the FAA, industry and academia selected the winning proposal.

The design competition has been held for five years.

--Christine Cosgrove