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Lower Cost Arrivals for Airlines: Optimal Policies for Managing Runway Operations under Optimized Profile Descent



Optimized profile descent (OPD) is an operating procedure being used by airlines to improve fuel and environmental efficiency during arrival operations at airports. In this study, we develop a stochastic dynamic programming framework to manage the sequencing and separation of flights during OPD operations. We find that simple calculation based measures can be used as optimal decision rules, and that the expected annual savings can be around $29 million if such implementations are adapted by major airports in the United States. Of these savings, $24 million are direct savings for airlines due to reduced fuel usage, corresponding to a potential savings of 10%–15% in fuel consumption over current practice. We also find that most of these savings will be due to the optimal spacing of OPD flights, as opposed to the optimal sequencing policies which contribute only 14% to the total savings. Hence, optimal spacing of OPD flights is much more important than optimal sequencing of these flights. We also conclude that there is not much difference between the environmental costs of fuel-optimal and sustainably-optimal spacing policies. Hence, an airline-centric approach in improving OPD operations is likely to be not in conflict with objectives that might be prioritized by other stakeholders.