Computational Optimisation and Learning (COL) Lab
 View of undercarrage of plane taking off

Academic researchers within the Computational Optimisation and Learning Lab in the School of Computer Science have produced an algorithm that has helped solve real world flight sequencing challenges at London Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest international airports.

Over 80 million passengers travel through the airport annually on services offered by 90 airlines travelling to more than 200 destinations in over 90 countries. It has approximately 1,300 combined take offs and landings each day.Dr Jason Atkin and Dr Geert De Maere have developed an algorithm that has helped flight schedulers improve efficiencies on scheduling flight departures by predicting the most likely order of take offs and providing an output as to when aircraft should push back from the departure gates. It does this by simulating the entire outward bound operation of the airport, by carrying out millions of calculations per second. The algorithm informs on an efficient and safe order for the aircraft to depart via the airport’s internal computer system. The output is given to air traffic controllers via the computer system and is then displayed to pilots in the form of a Targeted Start-Up Approval Time, which is the recommended aircraft push-back time.

For the airport to function both safely and efficiently, groups of similar sized aircraft need to be sequenced together for take-off, and the direction of flight departures also needs to be taken into account. Jason explains: “The biggest benefit of the algorithm is that you can hold aircraft on stand for longer, without delaying take-off so there is no loss for passengers in terms of delays. This also means you can also start aircraft engines later, which leads to significant fuel savings per year".


We are very proud of the algorithm we have developed as it has helped solve a real-world large scale aviation challenge and is of beneficial use"

Jason Atkin, School of Computer Science

Work is still continuing to further enhance the algorithm system. The Lab has also worked with Dutch airline KLM on robust airline scheduling projects, which have received technical innovation awards from the aerospace industry.This work featured in the BBC Four TV documentary ‘The Secret Rules of Modern Living: Algorithms’.

 The Algorithm has led to a 46% improvement in efficient take off times




The University of Nottingham
School of Computer Science
Jubilee Campus
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Nottingham, NG8 1BB

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