Solving Real-World Challenges in Airline Operations: Insights from Philip de Bruin

Solving Real-World Challenges in Airline Operations: Insights from Philip de Bruin

July 11, 2024
Written by
Communications Manager

This month Philips de Bruin shares his experience as a second-year PhD student at AI & Mobility Lab in Utrecht. He explains his motivation for pursuing a PhD at an ICAI lab, the importance of industry collaboration for researchers, and his experiences at the lab.

"I’m Philip de Bruin, a second-year PhD Candidate in the AI & Mobility Lab at Utrecht University. Here, I work closely with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. For my research, I am looking into increasing the resilience of various airline operations, meaning that the operations should better withstand disruptions. These disruptions occur due to, for example, weather conditions, but also shortages of personnel or aircraft parts. Especially the latter factors are currently a big challenge within various airlines. For this, we look at the schedules for the aircraft and their crew, where we investigate algorithms to repair a schedule when disruptions occur. We also look at ways to increase robustness, such that disruptions have less of an effect on the operation."

Philip explained that dealing with these disruptions is quite a challenging puzzle. There are a lot of factors that need to be taken into account, but there is also time pressure, as they need a working solution quickly. "Doing this ‘incorrectly’ leads to great passenger dissatisfaction, as you might cause a lot of delays and cancellations. Hence, the need for smart algorithms to solve such puzzles."

During his master’s thesis, Philip was working on robustness in electric bus scheduling. While he was not working directly with a company back then, they were in close contact with one. This way, he still got insights into how the problem would translate to practical use. "It is also what I really like, being able to apply my academic knowledge in a practical setting. And it’s also exactly what I’m doing now, except that we work way closer with a company."

Working at AI & Mobility Lab

Philip emphasized the value of collaboration with KLM, which has been a great and valuable experience so far. "For once, you get to know and see their operations. This not only helps in better understanding the problems you’re working on, you also see where you can bring more insight in order to improve these operations. Thus, it helps shape your research in a way where you can create value. So you can really help the company with the questions and challenges they face, giving a greater sense as to why you are doing something."

This might not sound too different from just working at a company, but Philip noticed a key difference. "I have more freedom in choosing a research direction and solution method. So while within a company one might be bound to existing software and tooling, I can go a different route. And this is exactly what makes such collaborations so valuable for the company as well."

What Philip really likes about being part of the AI & Mobility Lab is the varied group of people. "People in the lab work with different companies across different fields. It’s nice to have these connections and have a sense of what people are working on. Both close to your own research as well as a bit further away."

Reflecting on his experiences, Philip expressed his enthusiasm for his PhD journey. "All in all, this is what I really enjoy about my PhD. Having these connections within academia, but also with the industry. To explore ‘what’s out there’ and to collaborate and resolve current and future challenges."

We thank Philip de Bruin for sharing his insights and experiences with us. Stay tuned for more stories from researchers making strides in the intersection of academia and industry.


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