Crew Pairing at Air France

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In the airline industry, crew schedules consist of a number of pairings. These are round trips originating and terminating at the same crew home base composed of legal work days, called duties, separated by rest periods. The purpose of the airline crew pairing problem is to generate a set of minimal cost crew pairings covering all flight legs. The set of pairings must satisfy all the rules in the work convention and all the appropriate air traffic regulations. The resulting constraints can affect duty construction, may restrict each pairing, or be imposed on the overall crew schedule. The pairing problem is formulated as an integer, nonlinear multi-commodity network flow problem with additional resource variables. Nonlinearities occur in the objective function as well as in a large subset of constraints. A branch-and-bound algorithm based on an extension of the Dantzig-Wolfe decomposition principle is used to solve this model. The master problem becomes a Set Partitioning type model, as in the classical formulation, while pairings are generated using resource constrained shortest path subproblems. This primal approach implicitly considers all feasible pairings and also provides the optimality gap value on a feasible solution. A nice feature of this decomposition process is that it isolates all nonlinear aspects of the proposed multi-commodity model in the subproblems which are solved by means of a specialized dynamic programming algorithm. We present the application and implementation of this approach at Air France. It is one of the first implementations of an optimal approach for a large airline carrier. We have chosen a subproblem network representation where the duties rather than the legs are on the arcs. This ensures feasibility relative to duty restrictions by definition. As opposed to Lavoie, Minoux and Odier (1988), the nonlinear cost function is modeled without approximations. The computational experiments were conducted using actual Air France medium haul data. Even if the branch-and-bound trees were not fully explored in all cases, the gaps certify that the computed solutions are within a fraction of one percentage point of the optimality. Our results illustrate that our approach produced substantial improvements over solutions derived by the expert system in use at Air France. Their magnitude led to the eventual implementation of the approach.

, 30 pages

This cahier was revised in May 1996

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European Journal of Operational Research, 97(2), 245–259, 1997 BibTeX reference