Case Studies

United Airlines Station Manpower Planning

Byrn, Judson and Holloran, Thomas, "United Airlines Station Manpower Planning", Interfaces, 16:1, January-February (1986) pp.39-50.

How do airlines maximize their potential for expansion, while avoiding the growing pains normally associated with rapid development? It's simple, they employ the expertise of manpower planners. This is exactly what United Airlines did in 1983, in preparation for it's expansion. United established a manpower planning group under the supervision of its senior vice-president. With the implementation of a scheduling program developed by United's planning group, they were able to save more than six million dollars annually.

Scheduling employees for an airline is an enormous task. There are pilots, flight attendants, grounds people, reservationists, baggage handlers, cooks, janitors, mechanics, etc. Fortunately, for United's manpower planners, they were only charged with developing a scheduling program for the employees in the reservation offices. Although the assignment to schedule over 4,000 reservation office employees is not as difficult as scheduling the entirety of the airlines employees, it is still a formidable task.

The program was used to schedule 4,000 plus workers and combined both daily and weekly scheduling in a single model. The manpower planning model consists of 20,000 decision variables and is able to effectively produce monthly shift schedules. All airlines face an even greater scheduling challenge. The airline flight-crew scheduling problem is considered to be the most difficult scheduling problem in operations research. The problem is complicated by safety regulations and union work rules.

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