Lehigh University
Lehigh University

News

Visiting lecturer unravels the mysteries of the airline industry

Weary travelers often wonder, typically aloud and in line at the check-in gate, why airlines have issues with scheduling or overbooking during busy periods. Even with state-of-the-art technology at their disposal, why do horror stories about runway delays and cancelled connections still seem so common?

Dr. Cynthia Barnhart

To answer these questions, Dr. Cynthia Barnhart, Associate Dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (MIT), gave two lectures for the Spencer C. Schantz Lecture series for the Industrial & Systems Engineering Department (ISE) at Lehigh University on December 4th and 5th.

On December 4th, Dr. Barnhart gave a technical talk to the ISE department. The talk, entitled "Optimization Approaches to Airline Industry Challenges: Aircraft Schedule Planning and Operations" was attended by about 50 ISE students and faculty, and provided an overview of the historical accomplishments in airline schedule planning and operations control. This included flight schedule design, fleet assignments, aircraft maintenance routing and crew scheduling.

On December 5th, Dr. Barnhart gave a public talk to Lehigh University’s students, faculty and staff in the Sinclair Auditorium. In this talk, she focused on the analysis of airline delays, and the impact that airports, airline scheduling practices, passenger load levels and weather have in influencing the amount and frequency of delays experienced by passengers. Dr. Barnhart spoke to over 100 attendees from across the university community.

"This is my first time on Lehigh’s campus," said Barnhart. "I am very impressed with the faculty and students and their commitment to research and education."

Receiving her Ph.D. from MIT in 1988, Dr. Barnhart has been across the country and the world providing lectures to students. In these lectures, she has discussed optimization of transportation and network systems, from airlines, to railways, to communication networks. Barnhart has collaborated with major companies such as UPS, American Airlines, and United Airlines to develop optimization approaches for strategic resource allocation and short-term operational planning problems.

"The problems faced by industry provide challenging problems on which to base our research," said Barnhart. "In addition, we have the added benefit that our research is often translated into solutions with impact. This is particularly rewarding when the impact has a positive impact on passengers."

Barnhart currently serves as Co-Director of the MIT Operations Research Center and as President of INFORMS (The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences). INFORMS is the largest professional society for operations researchers. She has also served s Co-Director of MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics, transportation editor for the journal Operations Research, and as associate editor for the journal Transportation Science.

Dr. Barnhart has been awarded numerous awards including the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award, the Franz Edelman 2nd prize for Achievement in Operations Research and the Management Sciences, and the INFORMS award for the Advancement of Women in Operations Research and Management Science.

"I am particularly proud of being awarded the INFORMS Award for the Advancement of Women in Operations Research and Management Science," said Barnhart. "I am committed to increasing the diversity of our profession, and I believe that the INFORMS Women in Operations Research and Management Science group has made great strides in this endeavor."

Along with her many awards, Barnhart has published many papers and book chapters. She has recently co-authored with her colleagues at MIT, a new book, The Global Airline Industry. It is scheduled to be on bookshelves in April 2009.

Dr. Barnhart continues to teach and do research at MIT, and enjoys working and learning from her students. "As a professor, I am always learning something new," said Barnhart. "I love that aspect of the job, as well as the flexibility I am afforded as a faculty member, allowing me to balance my career and family goals."

The lecture series is endowed in the name of the late Spencer C. Schantz, who graduated from Lehigh in 1955 with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering. Following progressive responsibilities with several electrical manufacturing companies, in 1969 he founded U.S. Controls Corporation and became its first CEO and President. The Spencer C. Schantz Distinguished Lecture Series was established by his wife Jerelyn as a valuable educational experience for faculty, students and friends of Lehigh’s Industrial and Systems Engineering department. Past speakers in this series have included John Mulvey (Princeton University), William R. Pulleybank (IBM), and Thomas L. Magnanti (MIT).

—Amanda Fabrizio
 

Posted on Thursday, December 11, 2008

share this story: