Agent-based modelling and simulation for resilience engineering in air transport

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About Agent-based modelling and simulation for resilience engineering in air transport

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Air transport is a complex sociotechnical system, wherein distributed human operators (e.g., pilots, air traffic controllers, ground operators) and technical systems (e.g., aircraft, surveillance systems, communications systems) dynamically interact to achieve efficient and safe flight operations. The sociotechnical system must be able to deal with a large variety of variations and disturbances that may affect the flight operations, such as system failures, human performance variation, bad weather, and airspace availability. It is well recognized that human operators have essential roles in assuring resilience in air transport for many variations and disturbances. Taking into account such important human roles, resilience engineering is devoted to understanding and optimizing the operational implications of variations and disturbances in sociotechnical systems.

As part of research and development for the Single European Sky, new operational concepts with advanced technical systems are studied. One of such future operations concerns the use of aircraft surveillance applications systems to enable airborne spacing for sequencing and merging during approach to a runway. Whereas in conventional operations, air traffic controllers constantly have to control the spacing between aircraft, in an airborne spacing operation the aircraft surveillance application system automatically maintains a specified spacing with a leader aircraft. In a resilience engineering study, the resilience of airborne spacing operations was studied for a range of disturbances. It was found that sudden weather changes at the airport lead to the need to change the mode of operation, which has a range of implications for the aircraft spacing, and task load and way of working of the air traffic controllers.

For this bad weather scenario a qualitative agent-based model was developed. It describes the key performance of human operators, such as maintaining and updating of situation awareness, task performance, task load, contextual control modes, and dynamic and stochastic performance variability. These models are in close interaction with models for technical systems and the environment, including aircraft flight performance, aircraft surveillance application systems, and air traffic control surveillance and communications systems. This qualitative model was used for structured reasoning on the overall performance of the sociotechnical system.


The objective of this MSc study is to develop and implement a formal agent-based model of the airborne spacing operation in the bad weather scenario and to achieve quantitative results for indicators of the resilience by computer simulation. The simulation environment AnyLogic, which uses multiple methods and Java programming, is expected to provide a suitable simulation environment for this purpose. A basis for the formal model development will be the available qualitative agent-based model. The results are expected to provide new insights into agent-based modelling and simulation for resilience engineering in general and for the airborne spacing operation in particular. The study may be completed by a contribution to a scientific paper.


The MSc study will be performed as a 6-months full-time traineeship at the Aerospace Operations Safety Institute of the Netherlands Aerospace Centre NLR in Amsterdam. The trainee will be paid a compensation by NLR. This study is open for MSc students with a suitable background in engineering, computer science or artificial intelligence, who are interested in agent-based modelling of sociotechnical systems. More information can be obtained by dr. Sybert Stroeve, Senior Scientist NLR Aerospace Operations Safety Institute, e-mail: