Agent-Based Modelling and Simulation, Blog

Agent-Based Modelling and Simulation in Air Transportation

Written by  Soufiane Bouarfa      @delftaviation      20/02/2017

In order to improve the safety, capacity, economy, and sustainability of air transportation, revolutionary changes are required. These changes might range from the introduction of new technology and operational procedures to unprecedented roles of human operators and the way they interact. Implementing such changes can introduce both negative and positive emergent behavior. i.e. behavior that arises from the interactions between system entities as proposed in innovative concepts. Currently, the inability to understand and control such behavior prevents us from avoiding undesired negative emergent behaviours and promoting positive ones. In order to address this problem, Delft Aviation aims to understand emergent behavior in the complex socio-technical air transportation system.

Delft Aviation proposes Agent-Based Modelling and Simulation (ABMS) as a method for capturing emergent behavior of the socio-technical air transportation system, and evaluating novel system designs. The popularity of ABMS is driven by its capability of handling the increasing complexity of real world socio-technical systems that exhibit emergent behavior. Several case studies have been conducted by our experts using ABMS. E.g. : the identification of emergent safety risk of an active runway crossing operation; the evaluation of the role of coordination in Airline Operations Control (AOC); the evaluation of a new automation concept at a major European airline; and security assessment of an airport.

ABMS has emerged as a key method because it is widely used in complexity science to understand how interactions give rise to emergent behavior. The agent-based models include all relevant human and technical agents, such as pilots, controllers, passengers, and the decision support systems involved. Simulation of these agents interacting together is conducted to predict the impact of both existing and future concepts of operation.

The case studies conducted by Delft Aviation highlight that ABMS has the capability to reveal unexpected emergent behaviour and provide novel insights in air transportation. For instance, it was possible to understand the potential of agents in restricting the risk in off-nominal scenarios. Also, novel insights were gained about the role of coordination in airline operations control helping airlines to improve their disruption management plans and refine their airline controller trainings.

ABMS of air transport operations is a viable approach in gaining knowledge about emergent behavior which was unknown before. This knowledge includes both bottlenecks of system designs and identified opportunities, and hence can be used to control and further optimize the socio-technical air transportation system.  This also implies that ABMS can be a cost-effective method for evaluating new concepts during the early design phase of air transport operations.

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