Grand Valley State University
M.S. Operations Research and Statistics
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
I was hired by Northwest Airlines after graduate school as an analyst in their pilot-staffing department. In this job, I was responsible for forecasting the number of pilots the company would need three years into the future. After a couple of years, I became a senior analyst who took those long term predictions and worked them into the pilot staffing plan for one to four months into the future. On a continual basis, I needed to predict pilot vacations and leaves and determine if the pilots could be trained in time for the company to use the ideal marketing schedule.
Although the positions in the pilot-staffing department hadn't previously been filled by someone with a background in statistics and mathematics, the person who hired me recognized that my analytical skills would work well for the job. The staffing of over 6000 pilots requires analysis of large amounts of data, which is exactly what many of my math courses taught me how to do. Logic, operations research, and regression classes were especially helpful in knowing how to formulate a question for my problem and then find a meaningful answer with the data.
An interesting project I was once in charge of was related to a legal arbitration concerning pilot staffing 10 years in the past. It was a very important project to be heading and I was the one chosen because of my ability to work with numbers. I had to sift through many large files of information to reconstruct a complicated process that took place many years before I had even been hired. During the project, the legal team was concerned about how to draw a fair sample of the data to analyze. I put together a simple random number generator in Microsoft Excel, which everyone thought was a great idea. (I thought it was really a simple idea that anyone in mathematics would have suggested. I laughed to myself thinking of them putting hundreds of thousands of little pieces of paper into a hat to draw their sample!)
There are a variety of jobs for a mathematician in the airline industry. I thought my job was exciting and every time I fly, I know how my work helped to make the whole operation run smoothly.