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European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80

Theory and Methodology

Procedures for providing robust gate assignments for arriving

Ahmet Bolat *

Department of Mechanical Engineering, King Saud University, PO Box 800, Riyadh 11421, Saudi Arabia
Received 22 December 1997; accepted 14 October 1998


Assigning commercial service aircrafts to the available gates at an airport depends on ¯ights scheduled, their actual
behavior relative to those schedules, aircraft servicing requirements and capacities of ramp facilities. Flight delays,
severe weather, or equipment failures can disrupt the planned schedules, and compound the diculty of maintaining
smooth station operations. A mixed-binary mathematical model with a quadratic function for minimizing the variance
of idle times at the gates is proposed to make the initial assignments insensitive to variations in ¯ight schedules.
Experimental results with a branch and bound algorithm indicate that more computational e€ort is required to
assign ¯ights optimally over low utilized gates. Furthermore, a heuristic employing the priority function which con-
siders additionally the possible idle times from the future assignments outperforms the others, signi®cantly. Over the
real data obtained from the Saudi Arabian Airlines, average 87.4% and 76.2% of improvements can be obtained on the
number of aircrafts assigned initially to remote area and that towed from their assigned gates during the real-time
implementation, respectively. Ó 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Gate assignment; Branch and bound; Variance of idle times; Priority functions

1. Introduction

This paper addresses the problem of assigning arriving ¯ights to the available gates at an airport. The
term ``gate'' is used to designate not only the facility through which passengers pass to board or leave an
aircraft but also the parking positions used for servicing a single aircraft. These station operations usually
account for a smaller part of the overall cost of an airline's operations than the ¯ight operations themselves.
However, they can have a major impact on the eciency with which the ¯ight schedules are maintained and
on the level of passenger satisfaction with the service.

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64 A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80

The facilities and stang levels of gates are planned to ensure that the trac expected can be handled in
the most cost-e€ective way. The estimations are often based on the average targeted number of operations
per hour given the requirements of expected ¯ights. Obviously, there is a tradeo€ between the level of trac
(the level of service provided to passenger) and the overall costs of gates. Various analytical tools are
developed to assist in capacity planning of gates in order to meet predetermined service levels. (See Krauter
and Khan, 1978; Audsley et al., 1985; Hamzawi, 1986; Wirasinghe and Bandara, 1990; Hassounah and
Steuart, 1993) The actual utilization factor will represent the amount of time the gates are occupied in
relation to the time available. Thus, the ecient utilization of gates relies upon the tools to assign the
scheduled ¯ights initially and to adopt well to the needs of real-time operations support.
Most airline companies create monthly or quarterly Master Flight Schedules (MFS)s containing ¯ight
numbers along with the corresponding arrival and departing times. The ground controllers use the MFS to
examine the capacity of gates to accommodate proposed schedules. There are several considerations that
can bear on the decisions, such as aircraft size and servicing requirements, ¯ight crew and aircraft rotation,
passenger walking distance, baggage transfer, ramp congestion, and use of remote parking stands. For
example, Brazile and Swigger (1991) state that the average ground controller needs 10±12 hours to perform
this task at TWA's JFK and St. Louis airports serving over a 100 ¯ights per day using only 30 gates.
Because of the irregular conditions such as extra ¯ights, non standard equipments or maintenance re-
quirements, daily plans are prepared to ensure that proper gates are assigned to handle the expected trac.
Several past researchers (Braaksma, 1977; Babic et al., 1984; Mangoubi and Mathaisel, 1985; Birh, 1990;
Zhang et al., 1994) look at this static assignment problem from passenger's perspective and propose pro-
cedures mainly to reduce the walking distance for passengers. Although some of the constraints can be
handled through a gate restriction matrix, the dynamic aspects of airline operations are ignored completely.
Decisions will be needed to respond to disruption of expected schedules.
Schedules may be interrupted by unanticipated events such as severe weather, mechanical failure, late
arrivals, and so on. A delayed departure may delay the arrival of another aircraft scheduled into the same
gate, or require the ¯ight to be reassigned to another gate. In addition, the peaking created by late arrivals
and the need to transfer passengers between ¯ights can delay subsequent departures. Alternatively, expert
systems are proposed for operational control of ramp activity. (See Brazile and Swigger, 1988, 1991;
Gosling, 1990; Srihari and Muthukrishnan, 1991.) Based on the knowledge obtained from ground con-
trollers, an expert system uses production rules to guide the assignment process. Since the number of factors
to be taken into account is usually large, the most crucial task is identifying and listing these rules. In
practice, the researchers tend to develop simple and prototype systems because maintaining such a large
and complex system is very dicult. Recently, Cheng (1997) proposes a prototype system integrated with
mathematical programming techniques to provide partial parallel assignments.
The ®rst objective of this work is to address the static problem and assign the scheduled ¯ights to gates,
while considering all of the deterministic factors to meet predetermined service levels. A mixed-binary
integer program will employ a gate restriction matrix to exclude the use of a speci®c gate for a speci®c ¯ight
if this assignment is not feasible or does not provide the required service.
The second objective is to take into account the dynamic nature of the problem and make the assign-
ments insensitive to variations in ¯ight schedules. Obviously, a delayed departure from a gate will not
disrupt the following assignments in this gate, if the idle period according to the original departure time
does not overlap with the actual arrival of the next aircraft. In other words, each ¯ight should be assigned
so that the idle time after its departure is maximized. Since the total scheduled ground time of ¯ights and
the total available time of gates are constant, this goal can only be achieved if the idle times are spreaded
evenly among the gates.
Mathematically tractable objectives to accomplish the even spread may include minimizing the range,
maximizing the minimum, or minimizing the maximum idle times. The ®rst one is considered in Bolat and
As-Saifan (1996) and Bolat (1998). Over the real data obtained from the King Khaled International Airport
A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80 65

(KKIA) in Riyadh, procedures employing this objective outperform the existing method during static
assignment as well as real-time implementation phases. However, depending on the ¯ight schedules, un-
avoidably very long or short idle times may occur at the beginning or end of every basic feasible solution,
curtailing the desired e€ect of this function and that of the others mentioned above. Therefore, in this study,
a quadratic objective function is introduced to minimize the variance of idle times.
The remainder of the paper is organized as follows: Formal de®nition of the problem and the re-
lated mathematical model are given in Section 2. A branch and bound implementation is proposed in
Section 3. Several dominance criteria are developed to bound unpromising partial solutions. One-pass
heuristic procedures are also provided for solving realistic size problems. Section 4 contains an ex-
tensive set of computational experiments and comparisons. Finally, summary and conclusions appear in
Section 5.

2. Model formulation

Assume that there are N ¯ights to be assigned to M gates over a certain period of time, and the expected
arrival and ground time of ¯ights are known in advance. Binary parameter Pj;k is used for each possible
assignment: It is set to 1 when the assignment of ¯ight j to gate k is permissible, that is, it satis®es all
physical and managerial considerations, and results in passenger service satisfaction above the target level.
The following additional notation will be used to formulate the model:
Aj scheduled arrival time of ¯ight j,
Dj scheduled departure time of ¯ight j,
Gj ground time of ¯ight j, i.e., …Gj ˆ Dj ÿ Aj †,
Lo;k earliest available time of gate k in the beginning of planning period,
LN ‡1;k latest available time of gate k at the end of the planning period,

1 if flight j is assigned to gate k;
0 otherwise;
Ej;k entering time of ¯ight j to gate k,
Lj;k leaving time of ¯ight j from gate k,
Sj;k the last idle time (slack time) at gate k until the arrival of the ¯ight j,
SN ‡1;k idle time at gate k after the last departure from this gate.

Without loss of generality, it is assumed that the ¯ights are sorted in ascending order of their arrival
times so that Ai P Aj if i P j. The following mixed-binary quadratic programming model is proposed to
assign the ¯ights to gates with the minimum variance of idle times:

X N ‡1
min zˆ Sj;k ; …1†
kˆ1 jˆ1

Pj;k Xj;k ˆ 1; j ˆ 1; . . . ; N ; …2†

Ej;k P Aj Xj;k ; j ˆ 1; . . . ; N ; k ˆ 1; . . . ; M; …3†

66 A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80

Ej;k P Ljÿ1;k ; j ˆ 1; . . . ; N ; k ˆ 1; . . . ; M; …4†

Lj;k ˆ Ej;k ‡ Gj Xj;k ; j ˆ 1; . . . ; N ; k ˆ 1; . . . ; M; …5†
Sj;k ˆ Ej;k ÿ Ljÿ1;k ; j ˆ 1; . . . ; N ; k ˆ 1; . . . ; M; …6†
SN ‡1;k ˆ LN ‡1;k ÿ LN ;k ; k ˆ 1; . . . ; M; …7†
Xj;k ˆ 0 or 1; j ˆ 1; . . . ; N ; k ˆ 1; . . . ; M; …8†
Ej;k ; Lj;k ; Sj;k ; SN ‡1;k P 0; j ˆ 1; . . . ; N ; k ˆ 1; . . . ; M: …9†
First of all, let us discuss the constraints: Eq. (2) guarantees the assignment of each ¯ight to one of the
available and permissible gates. Constraint (3) and (4) are used to implement the fact that
Ej;k ˆ max fAj Xj;k ; Ljÿ1;k g. If there is an assignment …Xj;k ˆ 1†, then constraints (3), (5) and (6) will be
binding …Ej;k ˆ Aj ; Lj;k ˆ Dj ; and Sj;k ˆ Ej;k ÿ Ljÿ1;k †: Otherwise (Xj;k ˆ 0), constraint (4) will be binding
and a dummy idle time will result in …Ej;k ˆ Ljÿ1;k ; Lj;k ˆ Ljÿ1;k ; and Sj;k ˆ 0†. For a N-¯ight and M-gate
problem, the number of assignments is N , and the number of non-dummy idle times is N ‡ M. The idle
times at the beginning of horizon are determined by Eq. (6) when j ˆ 1, and the ones at the end by Eq. (7).
Note that the dummy slacks do not have any e€ect on the objective function.
Now we present the idea behind using surrogate objective function 1. Note that the total idle times is
equal to the di€erence between the total available time of gates and the total ground time of ¯ights, i.e.,
X N ‡1 X
Sj;k ˆ …LN ‡1;k ÿ Lo;k † ÿ Gj : …10†
kˆ1 jˆ1 kˆ1 jˆ1

Thus, the mean value of slack times is constant, regardless of the way that the ¯ights are assigned. Since
minimizing variance is equivalent to minimizing the second moment centered at zero, function (1) can be
utilized instead of a more complicated formula to determine the variance of idle times. The minimum
variance of the ®nal solution can be calculated by a simple transformation with constant factors.
The following example is used to expose the details of the formulation and prove that the constraint set
does not have the integrality property. There are four ¯ights and 2 gates available between 0 and 10 unit
time. The arrival and departure times of ¯ights are as follows: A1 ˆ 1, D1 ˆ 5; A2 ˆ 2, D2 ˆ 6; A3 ˆ 6, D3 ˆ 9;
and A4 ˆ 7, D4 ˆ 10. Assigning ¯ights 1 and 4 to gate 1, and 2 and 3 to gate 2 yields the following results:
E1;1 ˆ 1, L1;1 ˆ 5; E2;1 ˆ 5, L2;1 ˆ 5; E3;1 ˆ 5, L3;1 ˆ 5; E4;1 ˆ 7, L4;1 ˆ 10; E1;2 ˆ 0, L1;2 ˆ 0; E2;2 ˆ 2, L2;2 ˆ 6;
E3;2 ˆ 6, L3;2 ˆ 9; E4;2 ˆ 9, L4;2 ˆ 9. Thus, S2;1 , S3;1 , S1;2 , S4;2 are dummy slacks, and S1;1 ˆ 1, S4;1 ˆ 2, S5;1 ˆ 0,
S2;2 ˆ 2, S3;2 ˆ 0, S5;2 ˆ 1.
The implications of integrality would be very useful because some of the standard linear programming
packages have the capability of handling quadratic objective functions. Furthermore, solving linear pro-
grams with relaxed objective functions can provide lower bounds on the original problem. For this ex-
ample, solving the linear relaxation by suppressing the binary restrictions and employing a linear objective
(sum of idle times) results in the following fractional basic feasible solution: X11 ˆ 0.636, X12 ˆ 0.364,
X21 ˆ X31 ˆ 0.091, X22 ˆ X32 ˆ 0.909, X41 ˆ 1 and X42 ˆ 0. This instance clearly demonstrates that the con-
straint set does not have the integrality property and other techniques are required to ®nd feasible as-

3. Algorithms

Initially, we propose a Branch and Bound (B&B) algorithm, in which unpromising solutions are
bounded by various dominance criteria. However, the B&B su€ers from high storage and computational
requirements as the problem parameters (the number of ¯ights and gates) get larger. Thus, the use of
heuristics becomes necessary for solving realistic size problems.
A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80 67

3.1. Branch and bound algorithm

A scheme is developed to consider the ¯ights on the basis of ``®rst-arrived-®rst-assigned'' and ``no
preemption until departure'' (no towing away from an already assigned gate). For the next ¯ight, all the
available and permissible gates are evaluated by considering the variance of realized idle times and the
expected ones from future assignments. Lower bounds can be determined on the overall variance of a
partial solution by assuming that the idle times from the remaining ¯ights will contribute minimal. The
following additional notation is introduced to present the algorithm in detail.
Let Dr be the rth partial solution of branching tree, where r ˆ 1; 2; . . . ; R, and Dr …j† be the index of the
gate assigned to ¯ight j in Dr . Evidently, the cardinality of Dr , i.e., the number of ¯ights assigned so far,
de®nes the level of Dr in the tree. Furthermore, let U r …k† be the earliest available time of gate k in solution
Dr for the next ¯ight jDr j ‡ 1, and /r be the sum of squares of idle times and kr be the sum of idle times in
Dr . Finally, let r2 …Dr † be the variance of solution Dr and r2LB …Dr † be the lower bound on the variance of
complete solutions to be generated from Dr . The following recursive scheme is used to determine r2 …Dr † and
U r.
Suppose that D  is the solution under consideration for further branching. All possible gates are eval-

uated for the next ¯ight t ˆ D  ‡ 1, generating at most M new solutions at level t. Let Dn be the solution
generated from ``father'' D  by assigning gate y to ¯ight t, i.e.,

Dn …j† ˆ D…j†; where j ˆ 1; . . . ; t ÿ 1 …11†


Dn …t† ˆ y: …12†

Since ¯ight t is assigned, gate y will be busy until the departure of t, i.e.,

U n …k† ˆ U …k†; k ˆ 1; 2; . . . ; y ÿ 1; y ‡ 1; . . . ; M; …13†


U n …y† ˆ Dt : …14†

Here, we implicitly assume that this assignment is permissible and feasible, i.e., Pt;y ˆ 1 and At P U …y†.
Notice the last condition is sucient for the feasibility because it is applied to all previous assignments and
the arrival times of ¯ights are in ascending order. Similarly,
h i2
 ‡ At ÿ U …y† ;
/n ˆ / …15†

h i
kn ˆ k ‡ At ÿ U …y† …16†

/n ÿ …kn † =t
r2 …Dn † ˆ : …17†
Since the objective function (1) is monotonically increasing with the number of idle times (the number of
assigned ¯ights), partial solution Dn can not lead to a better solution than the complete incumbent solution
D , if
68 A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80

/n P / : …18†

In this case Dn should not be included in the partial solution list for further considerations. The following
dominance criteria are applied for additional reductions in the size of search tree. If

r2 …Dn † …t†
P r2 …D † …19†
N ‡M
n 2 n
/n ÿ N…k‡M
‡ …N ‡Mÿt
N ‡M
…bn t ÿ 2kn †
P r2 …D †; …20†
N ‡M
then prune solution Dn , where
n kˆ1 ‰LN ‡1;k ÿ U n …k†Š ÿ jˆt‡1 Gj
b ˆ : …21†
N ‡M ÿt
In order to show that these criteria are valid, i.e., they do not wrongly cut the ones which may lead to the
optimal solution, we utilize Propositions A.1±A.4, stated and proved in Appendix A. A brief explanation is
as follows: The ®rst criterion is a direct corollary of Proposition A.2, where the left hand side of Eq. (19) is
a lower bound on the variance of solutions generated from Dn . Similarly, Proposition A.4 yields another
lower bound. For gate k, LN ‡1;k ÿ U n …k† de®nes the remaining available time in that gate. Thus, the total
idle times after assigning the remaining N ÿ t ¯ights over all gates is given by the numerator of Eq. (21).
(Notice, we consider also the slack after the last departure from each gate, and thus, there are N ‡ M ÿ t
slacks to be evaluated.) Proposition A.3 states that the best possible way of distributing the remaining
slacks is to make each one of them equal to bn given by Eq. (21). Furthermore, the right side of Eq. (A.20)
in Proposition 4A and the left side of Eq. (20) are equivalent. As a result, a lower bound on the variance of
the complete solutions generated from Dn can be determined by
( n …kn †2 … N ‡Mÿt†bn n n
r2 …Dn † …t† / ÿ N ‡M ‡ N ‡M …b t ÿ 2k †
r2LB …Dn † ˆ max ; : …22†
N ‡M N ‡M

A recursive relation is developed to calculate bn eciently. Notice that in Dn there are t assignments and
N ‡ M ÿ t remaining slacks to be distributed, where as in D  there are t ÿ 1 assignments and N ‡ M ÿ t ‡ 1
remaining slacks. If gate y is assigned to ¯ight t in D , then Eq. (21) can be written as
LN ‡1;k ÿ kˆ1 U …k† ÿ jˆt Gj

N ‡M ÿt‡1
PM h i P
L ÿ U …1† ‡ U …2† ‡    ‡ U …y ÿ 1† ‡ Dt ‡ U … y ‡ 1† ‡    ‡ U …M† ÿ N
kˆ1 N ‡1;k jˆt‡1 Gj
bn ˆ :
N ‡M ÿt

By considering the common elements in Eqs. (23) and (24), and the fact that Gt ˆ Dt ÿ At , one can show
A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80 69

 ‡ U …y† ‡ Gt ˆ … N ‡ M ÿ t† bn ‡ Dt
… N ‡ M ÿ t ‡ 1† b …25†

h i
 … N ‡ M ÿ t ‡ 1† ‡ U …y† ÿ At
bn ˆ : …26†
N ‡M ÿt
The algorithm adopts a mixed branching strategy. It chooses the most promising partial solution with the
lowest lower bound, whenever it ®nds a better incumbent solution. (If there are ties, the one with the
highest cardinality, closest to completion, is chosen.) Then it continues with the most recent ones, until
either a better candidate is found or all branches of the initial promising solution are pruned. Experi-
mentally, we have found that this strategy outperforms the other branching rules such as ``branch always
from the most promising one'', or ``branch always from the most recent one''. However, the overall
performance of the B&B depends mostly on the number of ¯ights and gates; it may require prohibitively
large CPU time and memory allocation. Thus, ecient heuristic procedures are needed for solving large
size problems.

3.2. One-pass constructive heuristic

Our ®rst approach is to develop a heuristic to build a single solution after N iterations. (The name SPH
is adopted for this heuristic). It assigns ¯ights one at a time by considering all available gates. A priority
function is utilized for determining the most preferable, feasible and permissible gate.
Here we propose four priority functions. The ®rst one is rather ``greedy'' and minimizes only the idle
time generated from the next assignment. The other three consider additionally the future slack times to be
generated from the remaining ¯ights. In order to facilitate the exposition, we utilize some of the previous
notation such as D;  U ; 
k; and b de®ned for the solution obtained after the assignment of ¯ight t ÿ 1.
t t
Additionally, let k and / be the sum of slack times and sum of squares of slack times of the assignments
done so far, respectively, and btk be the ``best'' slack time which is to be generated from the remaining
assignments and which contributes minimum to overall variance.
If the proposal is to assign ¯ight t to gate k, then

kt ˆ k ‡ At ÿ U …k†; …27†

h i2
 ‡ At ÿ U …k† :
/t ˆ / …28†

In order to ®nd btk , we adopt the recursive relation given by Eq. (26)

… N ‡ M ÿ t ‡ 1† ‡ U …k† ÿ At
btk ˆ : …29†
N ‡M ÿt
Now the priority functions can be de®ned, rigorously:

f1 …t; k† ˆ At ÿ U …k†; …30†

h i

f2 …t; k† ˆ At ÿ U …k† ÿ btk ; …31†
70 A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80

h i2 ÿ 2
f3 …t; k† ˆ At ÿ U …k† ‡ …N ‡ M ÿ t† btk ; …32†

8 9
< /t ÿ …k † /t ÿ …k † ‡ N ‡Mÿt bt ÿbt t ÿ 2kt  =
t 2 t 2

t N ‡M N ‡M k k
f4 …t; k† ˆ max ; : …33†
: N ‡M N ‡M ;

Observe that function 2 minimizes the absolute value of the di€erence between the next slack time and the
best slack time from the future assignments. Meanwhile, function 3 minimizes sum of squares of the next
and the future best slack times. (After the assignment of ¯ight t, there will be N ‡ M ÿ t slack times to be
realized.) Finally, formula (22) is used for function 4 to minimize the lower bound on the overall variance
including the next slack time and remaining ones. A formal statement of the heuristic with priority function
i is as follows:

SPHi Algorithm
 ˆ /; U …k† ˆ Lo;k for k ˆ 1; . . . ; M; k ˆ 0; /
Step 0: Set D  ˆ 0 and

" #,

b …LN ‡1;k ÿ Lo;k † ÿ Gj N ‡M
kˆ1 jˆ1

Set t ˆ 1
Step 1: Until t > N
Find k  ˆ arg minfi …t; k†: At P U …k†; Pt;k ˆ 1:

 ˆ k  ; Slack ˆ At ÿ U …k  †; 
Set D…t† kˆ ˆ/
k ‡ slack; /  ‡ slack2

h i
ˆ b
Also set b …N ‡ M ÿ t ‡ 1† ÿ slack =N ‡ M ÿ t; U …k  † ˆ Dt ;

and finally set t ˆ t ‡ 1

Continue h ÿ  i.
 is a heuristic solution with a variance of /
Step 2: D  ÿ k 2 =N N . Stop.

3.3. Restricted search in the B&B

The second approach is to utilize the B&B heuristically by restricting the number of nodes to be
branched in search tree. (We adopt the name HBB for this heuristic.) The maximum number of allowed
nodes is de®ned by A ´ M. (Experimentally, we have found that A ˆ 1 000 000 results in optimal solutions
for most of the small size problems with 5 gates and average 25 ¯ights.) This way we can control the
memory and computational time requirements. Depending on the problem parameters, the HBB may stop
with the optimal solution well before the forced termination. However, this possibility gets smaller as the
size of problem gets larger.
A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80 71

4. Computational testing

We evaluate the performance of the procedures over randomly generated test problems on an IBM 3083.
(All algorithms are coded in F O R T R A N 77.) We also compare the B&B with another Branch and Bound
algorithm suggested previously to minimize the range of idle times. Finally, the real data obtained from
KKIA is utilized to evaluate the robustness of the solutions against the stochastic deviations during real-
time operation.

4.1. Generating test problems

Since few test problems exist in the literature, we randomly generate a fairly extensive set of data to
assess how the procedures perform. By setting a unit time to 5 minutes, integer ground time of ¯ights are
drawn from a uniform distribution between 15 and 36 unit time. (These parameters are similar to the ones
encountered in KKIA: On the average, it takes minimum 75 minutes for unloading and loading an aircraft,
and usually an aircraft is towed to remote area if its ground time is longer than 3 hours.)
It is clear that the performance of the procedures depends on the size of problems, i.e., the number of
¯ights and gates. However, the e€ect of utilization level is not so obvious. We select three problem sizes:
small, with 5 gates; medium, with 10 gates; and large, with 20 gates. (Regarding to the real-world problems,
their sizes depend on the airline and the airport under consideration. For example, the Saudi Arabian
Airline exclusively uses 8 gates at KKIA for its domestic ¯ights. On the other hand, TWA uses 30 gates at
JFK and St. Louis airports to serve over a 100 ¯ights per day.) In order to block the e€ect of problem sizes
and concentrate on utilization level, we employ the following scheme: For each gate under consideration, a
slack time is initially generated between the beginning of planning horizon and the arrival of the ®rst ¯ight
to this gate. Next, a ground time is generated for the ®rst ¯ight, establishing its arrival and departure time.
Then, the couples of slack and ground times are generated until the end of horizon. Adjustment on the
ground time of the last ¯ight may be required in order to guarantee that the last slack time is within the
prede®ned interval.
We set the average number of ¯ights per gate to 5.15, and control the percentage utilization by specifying
the range of idle times and the length of planning horizon, appropriately. For high-utilization problems,
idle times are drawn from a uniform distribution between 0 and 6 unit time, and the length of horizon is set
to 150 unit time. The expected ground time is 25.5 unit time for each ¯ight and the expected gate utilization
is [(5.15 ´ 25.5)/150] ´ 100 ˆ 87.55%. Similarly, for normal-utilization problems, slack times are drawn
from a range [7,15] unit time and the horizon length is set to 199 unit time, resulting in 65.99% utilization
per gate. For under-utilization problems, the range for slacks is [16, 35] and the horizon length is 288 unit
time, corresponding to 45.60% utilization per gate.
A total of 72 sets are generated, that is, 8 sets for each combination of nine cases. (Table 1 presents the
parameters for 24 small size problems.) Note that the average number of ¯ights is 25.63, 25.75 and 27.00 for
under, normal and high-utilization problems, respectively. Similarly, the average utilization is 45.63, 66.58
and 88.45% over these problems.

4.2. Performance of the B&B

Since the e€ect of the number of ¯ights is blocked, the computational e€ort required to ®nd the optimal
solution depends primarily on utilization level. There are also some deviations within each level, possibly
due to the spectrum of ground and slack times. Columns 4 and 5 in Table 1 presents the results obtained
with the B&B algorithms minimizing the variance and the range of idle times, respectively. It appears that
under-utilized problems require usually more computational e€ort, varying between 54.84 and 8387.81
72 A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80

Table 1
Comparisons of the B&B algorithms over small size problems (5 gates)
Test problem information Computational results
Problem Number of Percentage Variance of slacks CPU second Optimum range of
number ¯ights utilization of BB-variance BB-range BB-variance BB-range slacks
SU1 25 45.14 13.399 19.552 973.38 0.73 14
SU2 25 47.57 18.543 29.337 3426.89 1704.73 17
SU3 25 45.76 18.174 23.866 255.17 1.76 17
SU4 26 45.17 22.487 28.707 54.84 0.81 17
SU5 26 45.83 34.431 40.002 414.79 12.81 19
SU6 27 44.09 36.541 42.495 8387.81 40.46 18
SU7 25 45.42 11.480 13.335 148.37 5.78 14
SU8 26 46.04 24.931 32.436 165.19 2.04 18

SN1 26 64.52 4.658 5.428 42.41 20.11 8

SN2 25 68.04 3.945 4.938 83.21 0.74 7
SN3 27 64.32 5.179 6.047 172.13 24.45 8
SN4 26 67.44 4.786 6.400 110.93 7.61 8
SN5 26 66.33 6.242 7.463 154.60 7.17 8
SN6 26 68.04 3.589 4.420 60.05 0.78 7
SN7 25 64.57 3.222 4.613 56.56 58.98 7
SN8 25 69.35 2.920 4.508 13.19 0.95 7

SH1 25 88.67 2.123 2.788 15.99 0.79 6

SH2 27 86.93 2.855 3.662 45.26 0.71 5
SH3 28 89.07 3.503 3.686 2.72 3.07 6
SH4 26 88.93 2.975 3.484 8.96 4.27 6
SH5 27 87.47 1.300 1.673 62.57 25.25 5
SH6 27 88.53 3.196 3.320 34.55 0.71 6
SH7 27 90.13 2.511 2.574 2.64 0.96 5
SH8 29 87.87 3.318 3.552 73.56 0.69 5

CPU seconds. As the level of utilization decreases, the worst CPU time and the range decrease. More
precisely, a normal-utilization problem can be solved within 13.19±172.13 seconds, and a high-utilization
one within 2.64±73.56 seconds.
It appears that there are correlations among the objective value of the optimal solution
(Column 4), utilization level and CPU time. In order to construct a less utilized problem, a wider range and
longer idle times are required, resulting in higher variances. Consequently, the number of distinct
solutions (the size of search tree) increases as the level of utilization decreases. On the contrary, a high-
utilization problem presents less variation over the slack times, resulting in a smaller tree with less CPU
As expected, the solutions of the BB-variance are also optimal with respect to the minimum range.
(Column 8 presents the optimum ranges obtained by the both procedures.) The sum-of-squares measure
tends to strongly penalize large deviations, so it will tend to minimize the range. Obviously, the reverse is
not true and the di€erence between two objectives gets wider as the utilization level gets lower. Regarding
to the CPU e€ort, the BB-range takes considerably less time (the seventh column), suggesting that it can
be utilized as a heuristic procedure for minimizing the variance of slack times. There exists a trade-o€
between the improvement on the variance of solutions and the extended computational e€ort for
preferring the BB-variance over the BB-range. For each unit variance reduction 232.9, 59.3 and 68.3
additional seconds are required for under, normal and high-utilization problems, respectively. Our ex-
A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80 73

perience in practical situations (assigning average 70 ¯ights over 8 gates) indicates that the additional time
will be prohibitively larger.
Table 2 presents the statistical details about the performance of the BB procedures. On the average, the
BB-range yields solutions with 6.471, 1.207 and 0.384 more variance than the BB-variance over under,
normal and high-utilization problems, respectively. The spread within each level decreases as the level of
utilization increases. The paired t-test (Hines and Montgomery, 1980) is applied to determine whether the
improvement obtained with the BB-variance is statistically signi®cant or not. The test statistic for each level is
also given in Table 2. The critical limit is 1.895 and 2.998 for 5% and 1% signi®cant level, respectively. Ev-
idently the BB-variance produces solutions signi®cantly better than the BB-range, regardless of utilization
level. The additional CPU seconds required by the BB-variance, on the other hand, are signi®cant for normal-
utilization problems with 1%, and for normal and high-utilization problems with 5% signi®cance level. The
wide dispersion among the under-utilized problems is the primary reason for failing to reject the null hy-
pothesis. (The non parametric Wilcoxon Signed-Rank test also yields the same conclusions about the im-
provement with the BB-variance and di€ers slightly on the additional CPU requirement: The under-utilized
problems require signi®cantly more time for 5% and 1% levels, while the other problems for only 5% level.)
Another issue is the e€ect of starting point, initial incumbent solution, on the performance of the B&B.
All the results given in Table 1 are obtained by assuming that there are initial solutions whose objective
values are 100% away from the optimality. (Initially, we use the both BBs and try various starting points to
determine the objective values of the optimal solutions.) In order to study the progress of the BB-variance
until the optimality, the cumulative computation e€ort is recorded every time the algorithm ®nds a better
incumbent solution.
Fig. 1(a), Fig. 1(b) and Fig. 1(c) present the e€ect of initial solutions over high, normal and under-
utilization problems, respectively. (In order to display the averages and 95% con®dence intervals on the
same ®gure, we use log-normal scale on x-axis). Over high-utilization problems (Fig. 1(a)), it appears that
signi®cant improvements can be realized in one second and solutions become 60±20% close to the
optimality. The algorithm continues to improve but with a slower rate. When the CPU becomes four sec-
onds, the bound-quality curve drops rapidly and the solutions are only 3±30% far from the optimality. Then
marginal improvements occur until the optimality; in the worst case, 73.56 seconds may be required.
Normal-utilization problems (Fig. 1(b)) and under-utilization ones (Fig. 1(c)) present similar charac-
teristics: For each class of problems, the bound-quality curve is essentially level, then drops relatively
rapidly, then levels out as it converges to the optimum. The rate of most rapid drop appears at around one
second for high-utilization problems, around 10 seconds for normal-utilization problems, and around 100
seconds for low-utilization problems.

4.3. Performances of the heuristics

The SPH utilizing one of the four priority functions is compared with the HBB algorithm. We have
observed that functions 2 and 3 produce identical solutions for most of the 72 problems. (Function 3

Table 2
Di€erences between the solutions of the BB-variance and the BB-range
Utilization level Improvement on variance Additional CPU seconds
Average Standard deviation Test statistic Average Standard deviation Test statistic
Under 6.214 2.461 7.141 1507.16 2820.67 1.511
Normal 1.159 0.342 9.583 71.54 58.86 3.438
High 0.370 0.269 3.892 26.23 25.60 2.898
74 A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80

Fig. 1. The e€ect of starting point on the performance of B&B algorithm over small size problems.
A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80 75

produces slightly better solutions for 2 medium and high utilized problems, and one large and high utilized
problem.) Similarly, over small size problems, the SPH with function 4 and the HBB become identical,
producing same solutions. More precisely, both ®nd the optimal solutions for all problems, except for SN4
in which the deviation is 8.28% from the optimality. (While the SPH takes milliseconds of CPU time, the
HBB requires average 96.33 s and maximum 209.6 s) Table 3 reports the statistics for percent improvement
of function 4 over the other priority functions and the HBB. We observe that function 3, which always
outperforms function 1, may seldomly produce very inferior solutions over under-utilization problems. On
the other hand, it performs relatively stably over normal and high-utilization problems, and ®nds the
optimal solutions for 6 sets. Furthermore, the di€erence between function 3 and 4 varies over these
problems, suggesting a thorough comparative analysis.
The heuristics are also evaluated over the medium and large size problems, for which 10 and 20 gates are
considered, resulting in average 52.25 and 105.42 ¯ights, respectively. The average utilization is 45.99%,
66.51% and 89.14% for under, normal and high-utilization medium problems, respectively, and 45.55%,
66.56% and 89.02% for under, normal and high-utilization large problems. The computational e€ort re-
quired by the SPH is always less than a second, regardless of the priority function used. On the other hand,
the HBB takes average 377.83 and 743.38 CPU s for medium and large problems, respectively. The results
in Table 3 suggest that the superior performance of function 4 becomes more eminent as the size of problem
increases. Contrary to its success over small problems, the HBB may produce solutions with many times
more variance than that of the SPH4 . Even the SPH3 outperforms the HBB over all (most) of the under
(normal) utilization problems. Although the HBB performs much better on the high-utilization problems,

Table 3
Percent improvement of the SPH with function 4 over the other heuristics
Problem size Utilization Heuristic Percent improvement of SPH4 Critical di€erences
procedure procedure Average Std. dev. Minimum Maximum
Small Under SPH1 2254.502 1567.317 504.494 5385.344 4.418
SPH3 692.875 1640.439 3.732 4734.555 1.444
Small Normal SPH1 1709.534 1034.472 988.955 4050.446 8.288
SPH3 4.598 7.206 0.000 21.854 0.022
Small High SPH1 126.692 91.578 17.203 305.926 6.827
SPH3 17.675 20.295 0.000 44.555 1.178
Medium Under HBB 2068.732 784.401 1149.570 3351.436 5.703
SPH1 3799.060 1320.825 2378.331 6009.902 10.433
SPH3 878.189 584.975 364.792 2072.678 2.611
Medium Normal HBB 1197.896 747.324 379.425 2671.766 3.739
SPH1 3185.519 1231.631 1738.007 5444.266 9.937
SPH3 184.063 435.552 12.571 1260.879 0.578
Medium High HBB 63.882 44.714 13.658 131.365 1.682
SPH1 320.884 133.329 200.377 548.440 8.251
SPH3 98.859 61.775 4.879 190.827 2.593
Large Under HBB 5806.836 1534.416 3325.134 8197.180 11.621
SPH1 7904.824 2020.412 4184.598 10887.613 15.858
SPH3 2205.738 761.337 756.734 2929.603 4.426
Large Normal HBB 3891.220 1810.517 1591.983 7217.492 6.233
SPH1 6643.234 2232.657 3593.810 10568.668 10.673
SPH3 2175.466 1453.133 770.881 3889.757 3.568
Large High HBB 334.155 140.809 143.922 597.773 3.767
SPH1 820.594 280.948 358.111 1240.623 9.153
SPH3 370.198 343.202 8.002 1118.357 4.119
76 A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80

function 4 can still improve the HBB solutions. Dunnet's parametric test is applied to determine the sig-
ni®cance level of these improvements.
The last column in Table 3 reports the values of the critical di€erences between the other heuristics and
the SPH4 . The average percent improvement is considered as signi®cant (the corresponding heuristic
produces solutions with statistically more variance than the SPH4 ) when the corresponding di€erence is
greater than the critical value, which is 2.19 for 5% and 2.97 for 1% signi®cance level. Accordingly, for all
large size problems, the SPH4 is producing signi®cantly better solutions for both 5% and 1% levels. Sim-
ilarly, over medium and small problems, it is better than the SPH1 , regardless of utilization level. Because of
the wide dispersion over the other cases, the improvement obtained by SPH4 can be considered signi®cant
only for certain level of utilization and signi®cance. For example, average 63.82% improvement over the
HBB on the medium size high utilized problems may not be considered signi®cant. Similarly, average
184.06% improvement over the SPH3 on the medium normal utilized problems is not signi®cant. On the
other hand, the SPH4 is statistically better than the SPH3 over the under and high utilization medium
problems for 5% signi®cance level. As a result, none of the heuristics produces a single solution better than
the SPH4 . Secondly, the computational requirement of the SPH4 is much less than that of the HBB and is
very similar to that of the others. Therefore, there is no reason for the use of the other heuristics instead of
the SPH4 .

4.4. Performance of the SPH4 over real data

Finally, we evaluate the SPH4 over the data obtained from the KKIA of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The data
consists of 7 sets corresponding to a week of operation in April 1996 by Saudi Arabian Airlines serving in
terminal 1 for its domestic ¯ights. Daily dispatch work sheets are utilized to extract expected ¯ight
schedules, the initial assignments of ground controllers, and the ®nal assignments during real-time oper-
Recall that in the random data all gates are assumed to be homogenous, i.e., all gates are permissible for
all ¯ights. However, in terminal 1, the wide body aircrafts (AB 3000, L1011, B747) can not be served by the
corner gates 1 and 8. There are also di€erent grounding period requirements for each aircraft before its
departure and after its arrival. Furthermore, an aircraft with a grounding period longer than 3 hours is
pushed back to remote area for safety reasons.
The primary reason for minimizing the variance of idle times during the static phase of problem is to
make the assignments insensitive to stochastic changes in ¯ight schedules during the real-time operation
phase. We use the daily ¯ight schedules to prepare the initial assignments and then incorporate the actual
(realized) ¯ight schedules to evaluate the robostness of these assignments. If the slack time of an assignment
is long enough to absorb the variations in the ¯ight schedule, then the corresponding aircraft can be served
in its assigned gate until its departure. Otherwise, the aircraft is assumed to be towed to remote area as
practiced in the KKIA. Furthermore, in the initial static phase, an arriving aircraft might be assigned to
remote area if all of the permissible gates were already occupied. Thus, there are two measures to assess the
quality of assignments: the number of ¯ights assigned to remote area initially, and that towed to remote
area during the real-time implementation.
We compare the SPH4 with the current practice in the KKIA. (We also assess the performance of the BB
with restricted CPU time) Through discussions with managers and operators, we realized that they utilize a
data base system and apply rule-of-thumbs for initial assignments. The dynamic changes are handled by
visual inspections; the disrupted ¯ights are either dispatched to the next available gate or served in remote
area. As reported in Table 4, the SPH4 performs much better than the current practice in the KKIA and the
heuristic BB. The SPH4 solves the static problems in less than a second, while the heuristic BB takes 20
minutes to reach the solutions reported in column 4. Furthermore, these solutions may result in 12.2 times
A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80 77

Table 4
Comparisons of the SPH4 and existing practice in KKIA over real data (8 gates)
Problem Number of Variance of solutions over Results of ®nal solutions after dynamic changes
number ¯ights static problem Current practice SPH4
SPH4 BB after 20 Remote served Towed later Remote served Towed later
1 72 99.78 448.27 6 6 2 1
2 77 70.76 555.43 8 5 1 0
3 82 157.19 679.16 11 6 1 1
4 72 93.37 980.77 5 3 0 2
5 83 83.15 336.89 6 3 2 1
6 64 79.61 972.20 3 2 0 0
7 79 73.78 538.01 7 3 0 1

more variance than that of the SPH4 . When compared with the current practice, 87.39% improvement can
be obtained with the SPH4 on the number of aircrafts initially assigned to remote area. Similarly, SPH4
solutions also adopt well to the changes of real-time operations: On the average, 76.19% less number of
aircraft are towed from their gates than the current practice.

5. Summary and conclusions

This paper has dealt with assigning arriving ¯ights to the available gates at an airport and maintaining
these assignments during the real-time operation. The objectives are to consider all managerial and physical
considerations to provide the required service level, and to make the assignments insensitive to the sto-
chastic changes on ¯ight schedules. A mixed-binary quadratic model is formulated to minimize the variance
of idle times at gates. Lower bounds are developed on the overall variance of a partial solution, and a
branch and bound algorithm is proposed to ®nd the optimal assignments. Furthermore, heuristics are
considered for solving realistic size problems, eciently. Dynamic priority functions are developed to guide
the assignment process.
Over randomly generated problems, it is found that the main parameters a€ecting the performance of the
optimum procedure are the number of gates, the number of ¯ights, and the utilization level. The algorithm
takes longer e€ort over low-utilization problems. Average 26.12 ¯ights can be assigned optimally over 5
gates within 2.64±8387.81 seconds. Heuristics are additionally evaluated on medium and large size problems;
average 52.25 and 105.4 ¯ights over 10 and 20 gates, respectively. The heuristic which considers the current
and future idle times from the remaining assignments is found to be superior over the others. This heuristic
also performs quite well over the existing procedure practiced at the international airport of Riyadh, Saudi
Arabia: Over a 7 days of real-time implementation, it has provided average 87.39% improvements on the
number of remote assigned ¯ights during the initial phase, and 76.19% improvements on the number of
towed aircrafts during the real-time operation phase. As a result, this heuristic can provide responses in real-
time within very short computing times. Furthermore, it can be integrated with the expert systems su€ering
mainly from identifying the rules to guide the assignment process.


The author would like to thank K. As-Saifan of Saudi Arabian Airlines for providing data, and two
anonymous referees for their valuable comments and helpful suggestions.
78 A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80

Appendix A

Proposition A.1. Consider a population with size H and variance r2H . Suppose that data Y1 ; Y2 ; . . . ; Yh are
observed and the remaining data Yh‡1 ; Yh‡2 ; . . . ; YH are to be realized later. The overall variance r2H would be
minimum when the remaining ones were equal to the average of Y1 ; Y2 ; . . . ; Yh :

Proof. An easier way of computing r2H is as follows:

PH ÿ PH 2
iˆ1 Yi2 ÿ iˆ1 Yi =H
r2H ˆ : …A:1†
Ph Ph
Let kh ˆ iˆ1 Yi and /h ˆ iˆ1 Yi2 . Eq. (A.1) can be written by using kh and /h so that

PH ÿ PH 2
/h ‡ Yi2 ÿ kh ‡ iˆh‡1 Yi =H
r2H ˆ …A:2†
P 2
k2 P 2kh Yi Yi
/h ÿ Hh ‡ Hiˆh‡1 Yi2 ÿ
ÿ H
ˆ : …A:3†

The ®rst order optimality condition states that

ÿ PH 
@r2H 2Y` ÿ 2kh =H ÿ 2 iˆh‡1 Yi =H
ˆ ˆ0 …A:4†
@Y` H
where ` ˆ h ‡ 1; h ‡ 2; . . . ; H . Notice that

Y` ˆ …A:5†
satis®es Eq. (A.4). Now we prove that Y` is unique. First, assume that l which is di€erent than kh =h also
satis®es Eq. (A.4), that is,
2kh 2 iˆh‡1 l
2l ÿ ÿ ˆ 0: …A:6†
This means that

H l ÿ kh ÿ …H ÿ h†l ˆ 0 …A:7†
lˆ …A:8†
which contradicts the assumption that Y` ˆ kh =h is not unique.
Finally, the second order condition for nontrivial cases indicates that

o2 r2H 2 ÿ H2
ˆ P0 for H P 2: …A:9†
oY`2 H
A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80 79

Thus, r2H is a convex function and Y` ˆ kh =h uniquely minimizes it. h

Proposition A.2. Consider data set Y1 ; Y2 ; . . . ; Yh with a variance of r2h . If this population is to be expanded
with the addition of H ÿ h new data, a lower bound on the overall variance of r2H is given by
r2h …h†
r2H P : …A:10†

Proof. This is a direct corollary of Proposition A.1, i.e., the variance of …Y1 ; Y2 ; . . . ; Yh ; Yh‡1 ; Yh‡2 ; . . . ; YH † 
the variance of (Y1 ; Y2 ; . . . ; Yh ; Y` ; Y` ; . . . ; Y` ), where Y` ˆ kh =h. In other words,
k2 ÿ k 2 2kh …H ÿh†
…H ÿh†

/h ÿ Hh ‡ … H ÿ h† h
ÿ h
ÿ h

r2H P h H H
: …A:11†

(The right hand side of the above inequality is written by substituting Y` in Eq. (A.3).) After some algebraic
manipulation, we get

/h ÿ k2h =h
r2H P : …A:12†
However, by the de®nition of /h and kh

/h ÿ k2h =h
r2h ˆ : …A:13†
Hence, the result follows immediately. h

Proposition A.3. Consider data Y1 ; Y2 ; . . . ; Yh ;P Yh‡1 ; . . . ; YH with a variance of r2H and Y1 ;

^ 2H . If b ˆ Hiˆh‡1 Yi =…H ÿ h†, then
Y2 ; . . . ; Yh; b; b; . . . b with a variance of r

^2H :
r2H P r …A:14†

Proof. We employ Eq. (A.3) to determine r2H . Similarly,

P 2
k2h PH 2kh b b
b2 ÿ
/h ÿ H ‡ iˆh‡1
^2H ˆ
r H H
: …A:15†

b ˆ …H ÿ h† b ˆ Yi ; …A:16†
iˆh‡1 iˆh‡1

the di€erence between the two variances is equal to

Y 2 ÿ Hiˆh‡1 b2
^2H ˆ iˆh‡1 i
r2H ÿ r : …A:17†
In other words,
80 A. Bolat / European Journal of Operational Research 120 (2000) 63±80

" PH #2
…H † r2H ÿ ^2H
r ˆ Yi2 ÿ …H ÿ h† iˆh‡1
H ÿh
ÿ PH 2
ˆ Yi2 ÿ : …A:19†
H ÿh

By the de®nition, the last equation yields the variance of data Yh‡1 ; Yh‡2 ; . . . ; YH . Since variances are always
nonnegative, the result follows directly. h

Proposition A.4. Assume that a population with data PHY1 ; Y2 ; . . . ; Yh is to be expanded by the inclusion of data
Yh‡1 ; Yh‡2 ; . . . ; YH . If there is a condition that iˆh‡1 Yi ˆ …H ÿ h†b, then a lower bound on the overall
variance of the expanded population with size H can be determined by

/h ÿ Hh ‡ …H ÿh†b ‰bh ÿ 2kh Š
r2H P H
: …A:20†

^2H is a lower bound on r2H . On the other hand,

Proof. An obvious corollary of Proposition A.3 is that r

k2 2
/ ÿ h ‡ …H ÿ h† b2 ÿ 2kh …HHÿh† b ÿ ‰…H ÿh† bŠ
^H ˆ h H
r H
: …A:21†
After some algebraic manipulations, the right side of Eq. (A.21) reduces to that of Eq. (A.20). h


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