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Flight Network Simulation at Swiss International Air Lines

Flight network operations at Swiss International Air Lines are becoming increasingly challenging. An innovative flight network simulation tool has been developed to support the complex planning and control tasks.

Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) has a national mandate to ensure broad and reliable connections between Switzerland with its export-oriented economy and the European and global markets. Zurich Airport is the central hub of the SWISS flight network, and its operational performance is crucial to the efficiency, reliability and profitability of the entire network. Increasing pressure from tighter regulations and operating conditions, shrinking profit margins, intense international competition and ever-growing customer expectations pose wide-ranging challenges for the Flight Operations unit. The complexity of strategic and operational decisions has reached a level that can no longer be adequately managed by traditional methods. SWISS has recognized the need for decision support through intelligent business software and has decided to develop an innovative flight network simulator.

As part of a major Innosuisse project, IDP has worked with SWISS to develop the flexible and powerful Flight Network Simulation (FNS) software tool, which can be used for various operational planning and control tasks. The simulation tool plays an important role in the strategic design of the semi-annual flight plan. This is a complex development process that begins a year before release and involves a variety of stakeholders with competing objectives, including airlines and airport operators. In particular, the time slots for arrivals and departures are scarce resources that are constantly being reallocated and largely determine the flexibility and quality of the resulting flight plan.

For SWISS at Zurich Airport, flight plan design has become increasingly complex and difficult in recent years due to structural overloading of airport capacities, tighter operating conditions and systematic reduction of valuable capacity reserves and time buffers. In particular, the FNS tool is used to detect bottlenecks and deficiencies in flight schedules at the design stage, to assess the impact of capacity fluctuations at airports, to provide guidance for renegotiating takeoff and landing slots, and to systematically improve flight schedule design. The resulting flight plans are more robust against operational disruptions, improve passenger connectivity, and cause fewer delays overall.

At the operational level, the FNS tool is used to simulate and evaluate the detailed daily decision processes. Flight Operations Control is responsible for all decisions that have to be made in real time in order to maintain global flight operations under all circumstances. Decision makers must react immediately to operational irregularities and be able to make the right decisions within the shortest possible time, even in complex situations.

The FNS software provides sophisticated support through the ability to simulate, evaluate and compare different decisions on the computer, based on quantitative models and up-to-date information about the real situation in the airline network. For example, in the event of snowfall with resulting capacity reductions and delays, decision makers can simulate different possibilities of flight cancellations and estimate their projected consequences in terms of expected delays, disconnections and other operational issues. This enables optimized decision making that results in lower operating costs, higher passenger satisfaction, fewer regulatory violations and lower environmental emissions. Given the major operational challenges in the airline business, the FNS tool is of strategic importance to SWISS in ensuring operational excellence, high-quality services and competitiveness in the future.