Robust Aircraft Routing

Transportation Science, Forthcoming

36 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2014 Last revised: 2 Oct 2015

See all articles by Chiwei Yan

Chiwei Yan

Uber Technologies, Inc.

Jerry Kung

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Operations Research Center

Date Written: October 1, 2015


We propose a robust optimization approach to minimize total propagated delay in the aircraft routing problem, a setting first developed by Lan et al. (2006) and then extended by Dunbar et al. (2012, 2014). Instead of minimizing the expected total propagated delay by assuming that flight leg delays follow specific probability distributions, our model minimizes the maximal possible total propagated delay when flight leg delays lie in a pre-specified uncertainty set. We develop exact and tractable solution approaches for our robust model. The major contribution of our model is that it allows us to explicitly model and handle correlation in flight leg delays (e.g., due to weather or various air traffic management initiatives) that existing approaches cannot efficiently incorporate. Using both historical delay data and simulated data, we evaluate the performance of our model and benchmark against the state-of-the-research stochastic approach (Dunbar et al. 2014). In most of the cases, we observe that our model outperforms the existing approach in lowering the mean, reducing volatility, and mitigating extreme values of total propagated delay. In the cases where a deficit in one of the three criteria exists, gains in the other two criteria usually offset this disadvantage. These results suggest that robust optimization approaches can provide promising results for the aircraft routing problem.

Keywords: aircraft routing; robust airline planning; delay propagation; robust optimization

Suggested Citation

Yan, Chiwei and Kung, Jerry, Robust Aircraft Routing (October 1, 2015). Transportation Science, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: or

Chiwei Yan (Contact Author)

Uber Technologies, Inc. ( email )

San Francisco, CA 94158
United States


Jerry Kung

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Operations Research Center ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Bldg. E 40-149
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

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