Tag Archives: aviation

Travel Bans Can’t Stop this Pandemic

My op-ed entitled “Travel bans can’t stop this pandemic” was published in The Hill. You can read it here.


it’s still safe to fly

Despite terrifying headlines like “2014 could be worst year for plane crash deaths in almost a decade,” it’s quite safe to fly. Operations research has played a role in demonstrating aviation safety over the years. Professor Arnie Barnett at MIT is a leading authority in aviation safety, and he has published several papers on this topic (see references below for four of them). He was recently on Voice of America in a 22 minute segment discussing aviation safety [Link here, HT @Supernetworks]. According to Barnett, flying in the first world was 100 times safer now than in the 1950s. Terrorism may be more of a threat to first world air safety than accidents. Most of Barnett’s papers focus on the safety associated with US domestic trunklines, however, some of his work has noted improvements in international safety.

The developing world is not quite as safe. However, Barnett nicely discusses benefits as well as costs. He points out that many things are not as safe in the developing world (drinking water, medical care, etc.) and that we should look at the entire safety of the trip and weigh that with the potential benefits of travel when making travel decisions. Likewise, there are potential solutions for improving air safety that may be too costly. Given limited budgets for things like (say) security, it generally makes sense to spend the budget on things that have the most impact. Barnett references RAND’s MANPADS study [Link] that concluded that “given the enormous cost of installing anti-missile systems compared with other homeland security measures, researchers suggest that officials explore less costly approaches in the near term while launching efforts to improve and demonstrate the reliability of the systems.”

This week, Arnie Barnett was also on More or Less on BBC Radio [Link]

Have the recent air events changed your willingness to fly domestically or internationally?


ON THE LINE: How Safe Are Our Skies ?

ON THE LINE: How Safe Are Our Skies ?

Barnett, A., Abraham, M., & Schimmel, V. (1979). Airline safety: Some empirical findings. Management Science25(11), 1045-1056.

Barnett, A., & Higgins, M. K. (1989). Airline safety: The last decade.Management Science35(1), 1-21.

Barnett, A. (2000). Free-flight and en route air safety: a first-order analysis.Operations research48(6), 833-845.

Czerwinski, D., & Barnett, A. (2006). Airlines as baseball players: Another approach for evaluating an equal-safety hypothesis. Management science,52(9), 1291-1300.

Air fatalities per year

Punk Rock OR Podcast #4: Sheldon Jacobson on aviation security

The fourth edition of the Punk Rock OR Podcast is out.  With the 10th anniversary of September 11th coming up, I decided to a podcast episode on aviation security was in order. Dr. Sheldon Jacobson from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign agreed to chat with me about his research on aviation security to highlight the role of operations research in homeland security.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast feed via the podcast web site.


Sheldon Jacobson

airline overbooking

I read an interesting article about the history of airline overbooking  from the University of Illinois News Bureau.  Julian Simon, a former faculty member in Economics, pioneered the idea back in the 1960’s.  Simon “devised the notion of rewarding passengers on overbooked flights if they gave up their seats. The seemingly subtle switch provided a $100 billion jolt to the U.S. economy over the last three decades, says former colleague James Heins.”  What the article doesn’t say is that although an economist came up with the idea from which he  never profited, operations researchers ran with the idea, accounting for much of the $100B in savings.  If you google anything about airline overbooking, numerous operations research papers come up (such as the classic 1985 Marvin Rothstein paper).  I am more interested in a more recent history that highlights how operations research has contributed to airline overbooking.  Post a link in the comments if you know of any good overview articles. The Travel Insider has a good lay overview of how overbooking works, but it doesn’t mention OR, of course.  Link.