Research profile: Working to find the world's most efficient airport


Professor David Gillen is using his dual interests in geography and physics to investigate issues in transportation economics.

While he applies his analytical skills towards solving a myriad of transport problems, he has interests in rail and marine transport but his main focus, over the last few years, has been on improving aviation. For example, Dr. Gillen’s research has focused on the impact that noise management strategies have on airport productivity. His results have led aviation administrators all over the world to consider the productivity effects of differing noise management strategies at their airports.

His work has also steered him into other areas of inquiry within the same field. He has recently focused his efforts on improving traditional airport performance measures that have not historically included social factors like the impact of noise, aircraft and traffic delay, and air pollution. In traditional airport and airline evaluation models, factors such as ease of access, availability of seating, and cost of goods are used to rank an airport’s performance. Yet, Professor Gillen argues that this approach does not always paint an accurate picture of overall performance. Thus, he is working to create a ranking methodology that would take into account both social and operational factors.

In order to achieve his research goals, Professor Gillen is analyzing data that he has collected from a number of airports over an eight-year period. The data set he has amassed along with colleagues in the United States measures traditional performance factors and environmental factors. Based on his analysis, Dr. Gillen and his colleagues have constructed a performance index that looks at both positive and negative outputs. By applying Bayesian econometrics (a scientific method used to solve economic problems using economic data) he is trying to determine the world’s most efficient airport. Once he has determined the best, he proposes to rank all other major airports against this benchmark.

“The goal of my research is to answer the question: How much good do you have to give up to reduce the bad?” notes Dr. Gillen. “In other words, what steps do you have to take to ensure social benefits balance social costs? Do you have to limit the number of planes coming in and out of airports and if so what is the optimal number?”

These questions are not easy to resolve and have economic, social, and political implications, yet this research is timely and warranted. Based on his recent work, Professor Gillen and his colleagues hope to make recommendations that will assist with the development of airplane scheduling that maximizes benefits and mitigates the loss.

Read more information on Dr. Gillen's work.