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Angel Flight West Optimizes Flight Routes for Children and Families with Special Needs

About Angel Flight West

Angel Flight West is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization that arranges free, non-emergency air travel for children and adults with serious medical conditions and other compelling needs. The organization’s network of 4,000+ pilots donate their aircraft, piloting skills, and all flying costs to help families receive vital treatment that might otherwise be inaccessible because of financial, medical, or geographic limitations. They were looking for a solution that would allow them to optimize flight routes to maximize the impact of their donations.


Angel Flight West (AFW) conducts over 4,500 flights per year with its network of pilots. Around 500 of those flights take place each summer, transporting children to summer camps for burn survivors and other medical conditions. Analytics consultant Stephan Fopeano and his team at AFW would perform calculations by hand to schedule these flights and match passengers with available pilots. The team used a white board and spent several days trying to find a feasible solution. Sometimes flight plans would have to be discarded if a single pilot became unavailable. This exercise was time consuming and tedious, so there was a need for a more scalable and user-friendly solution.


Willem-Jan van Hoeve, Carnegie Bosch Associate Professor of Operations Research from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, presented this problem to his students, who developed an AIMMS-based application to help AFW tackle this planning challenge. The solution was deployed on the cloud to facilitate speed and collaboration. It will be used by a dozen people across the United States, enabling optimized planning for AFW and similar organizations operating flights to summer camps across the country. With this new App, the AFW team and their partners can easily input data through a spreadsheet upload. The number of passengers and their location, destinations, and pilot details (such as the number of passenger seats, weight and dates they have available) are then processed in the tool and an optimal plan is obtained within seconds.


Using AIMMS, AFW can minimize travel times for their pilots while maximizing flight weight and fuel utilization. This, in turn, maximizes the pilots’ donations. One particular summer, AFW pilots flew 461 camp flights for 277 unique campers. They used the AIMMS model to plan the flight schedules and were able to save on 10 flights compared to the previous year through better planning.

“By maximizing our pilots’ donations (in time and fuel) we can help more people. If our pilots can save an hour of flight time, which can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, then they can donate those funds to help someone else. This is made possible thanks to AIMMS and Prof. van Hoeve’s team at CMU.” – Stephan Fopeano, Analytics Consultant at Angel Flight West

Results in a nutshell:

  • Planning efficiency increased
  • Significant time savings
  • Maximized donations


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