UM study could help airlines ease weather delays

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Tired of showing up at the airport, only to learn the flight is delayed?

University of Michigan researchers are conducting an exhaustive analysis of weather patterns and flight data that could help the airline industry better predict and address delays before they occur.

The engineering researchers, who include students, have collected over 70 million flight records and 40 million weather records from the past decade.

The records include information such as when flights were scheduled, the actual departure time, time spent taxiing and time spent in the air. Weather records include hourly data, including details of inclement weather.

The two-year project culminated with the creation of a database that is being analyzed to spot trends and manage delays more efficiently.

“There will always be delays; weather is always going to have an effect,” said Amy Cohn, a UM associate professor in industrial and operations engineering who researches airline industry operations. “The goal is to see if we can learn enough to predict and mange those delays. That is coming up on the horizon fast.”

Though the industry does a lot of analysis, Cohn said, most airlines compensate for delays by adding slack into their system.

But if the research leads to the building of a computer modeling software that could generate predictions of flight and weather scenarios, delays could be spotted in advance and help planning.

“The more you understand where delays are going to happen, the better you can put in padding,” Cohn said.

For instance, if a flight is scheduled out of Detroit in a few hours but a storm is underway in Atlanta, this info could be used to predict a delay, and offer travelers an alternative flight.

Flight delays can be costly, especially for business travelers who are pressed for time. According to a study by Global Business Travel Association, delays, missed connections and flight cancellations cost the average business flier $1,154 in missed work and out-of-pocket costs.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, flights on the nation’s biggest airlines were on time 79.9 percent of the time in October, the most recent data available.