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How Delays Propagate Across the U.s. Airport Network

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flight delayed sign

Credit: WorldMate

Pablo Fleurquin and colleagues at the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems have simulated how flight delays spread across the U.S. airport network like wildfires.

The team approached the air transportation system as a network in which airports are nodes and the flights between them edges. The simulation compares scheduled and actual departure times for more than 6 million flights in 2010, and tracks the arrival and departure of each aircraft at a resolution of one minute, which allows the team to see how delays propagate across the country. The model shows how congestion problems are generally reset each evening when flights stop for the night, and how local problems such as weather disruptions tend to be confined to a small number of airports.

The team concludes that delays can spread when a delay in one leg naturally impacts the next, when there is a delay in passenger and crew connections, and when there is airport congestion. "Our simulations evidence that passenger and crew connections is the most effective single mechanism to induce network congestion," the researchers say. They note the model could be used to test daily schedules and evaluate network configurations.

From Technology Review 
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