UWindsor team designs award-winning cargo optimization tool for Air Canada

A system to help Air Canada maximize the use of its complicated cargo network has won an award for a UWindsor’s research team.

The project, “Modelling of the Air Cargo Network Flow Optimization,” led by engineering professor at the Supply Chain and Logistics Research Centre, Guoqing Zhang, took the first practice prize at the national conference of the Canadian Operational Research Society (CORS), June 16 in Montreal. 

The CORS practice prize recognizes an outstanding application of operational research by a Canadian that has had a significant, verifiable and quantifiable impact on the performance of the client organization. 

According to Dr. Zhang, Air Canada cargo, with revenue of $502 million in 2014, uses passenger flights to ship products, but gives priority to baggage; limited space is available for the cargo. In addition, the amount of available space varies from day to day.

“Challenges we needed to tackle included working on a vast and complex network, multi-type products, and finding an efficient way to solve the large scale optimization problem,” he says.  

The team spent a year working closely with Air Canada cargo representatives and has put a lot of time and effort to find a solution for this problem, says Zhang. He says the solution, now adopted by Air Canada, will allow the airline to “better evaluate its capacity to accept new demand, determine the impact of proposed fleet capacity changes, and optimize the existing cargo network to maximize the fulfilled demand that gives it the potential to make a significant impact on revenue.”

Team members from the university included doctoral student Nooshin Nekoiemehr and master’s students Qiqi Zhang and Anqi Chen. The project received an Engage Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

In 2013, another UWindsor’s research team lead by mathematics and statistics professor and Director of the (Undergraduate) Operational Research Program, Richard J. Caron, had also won the first prize at CORS for their project “A Network Optimization Model for The TDL Group Corp."