A Cool Animation That Shows What Happened To Air Travel Since 1975

As most of you probably know by now, I find Tableau Software to be a super useful tool to analyze and visualize data. I even took an advanced course on how to use it (offered by udemy), and one of the assignments I had to take was to create an animation to show some world trends in regards to world demographics. I thought that this framework would be applicable to show some air-travel related trends, since I have already written a post about this subject, where I used Tableau Software too, and I wanted to deepen everyone’s knowledge about the subject since I’ve seen a lot of interest in it.

balloons CappadociaTurkey.

The sky can be crowded sometimes…

Using the same data from the World Bank’s website (population, number of air passengers – both by country) I created an animation that describes what happened to air-travel since 1975 in 9 countries: The US, Canada, The UK, China, France, India, Brasil, Australia, and New Zealand. The animation describes what percentage of the population flies (X axis), absolute number of air passengers (Y axis), and the countries’ population size (circles’ size).

It it noticeable that some countries have significant numbers of the population flying, especially Australia and New Zealand where they rely mainly on air-travel as means of transport due to these countries’ geographic location. The world in 2014 seemed much different than what it looked like back in 1975, with larger portion of the population flying more than once a year in several countries (places that have more than 100% of the population flying in a given year), as well as countries that have significantly more air-travelers than what they used to in the past (i.e. India, China). In any case, I’ll let you play with my animation and see it in your own eyes.

Let me know if you have any feeback or comments.




Some fun facts about airports’ elevation and type

I’ve recently started getting a little bit more seriously into the field of Data Science, taking a new Coursera.org Specialization in the field, and even writing a new blog (the same post will be shown there) where I showcase my capabilities as an analyst, writing about interesting topics of all kinds. In previous blog posts I’ve already done analyses using different tools, and this time I used Python to go over a large amount of freely available data of most airports around the world, provided by OurAirports .

So this time, I’m talking about a database that contains data about 43,502 airports around the world, including commercial airports of all sizes, seaplane bases, heliports, and even balloonports. Let’s begin with the description of the type of airports that are represented there, in case you’ll ever want to use the data for any kind of purpose. Here is the the description summarized in the table bellow:

Airport Type Number of Records Percentages 
Small Airport 30,634 64.6%
Medium Airport 4527 9.5%
Large Airport 573 1.2%
Heliport 9098 19.1%
Balloonport 17 0.003%
Seaplane Base 927 0.19%
Closed 1635 0.34$

It’s noticeable that small airports and heliports account for the majority of the airports represented in the database , roughly 84% of the airports. It makes sense, since not so many airports around the world are located in a strategic place near a major city or in an adequate position for a layover when flying between two points, and that’s why big airports account for only 1.2% of the database. I do not remember the last time I’ve seen a balloon in the air (sadly, because they can be neat) and that explains why they account for only 0.003% of the database.

Next, I found elevation for each airports in feet, but I wanted to stay loyal to the metric system so I converted the field to elevation in meters. Here are some fun facts about what I found:

  • The lowest airport in the world is located at -385 meters bellow mean sea level, next the lowest place in the world, the Dead Sea. I’m talking about the Masada Ber Yehuda Airfield in Israel. It will definitely be hard to beat this record.
  • The highest airport in the world according to the database is located on the Siachen Glacier in the Himalayas, and it’s a helipad owned by the Indian Army at an extreme altitude of 6705 meters above mean sea level, due to the Siachen Conflict between India and Pakistan. That’s another record that will be hard to beat.
  • I was debating which central tendency was more appropriate to use for elevation. The mean elevation was 369 meters above sea level (with a standard deviation of 473), while the median elevation was only 218 meters above sea level. Due to the big difference, I realized that the median value is a better reflection of the central tendency, due to the existence of outliers, such as the Siachen helipad.
  • 75% of the airports in the database, or three quarters, are bellow  445 meters above sea level. Therefore, if you fly somewhere, there’s a high chance that the airport will be located bellow this level. Here’s the actual distribution of the variable that represents the elevation of airports:
Elevation of airports

Elevation of Airports

However, when I looked at the data of the 100 busiest airports around the world by passenger volume (2011) , I found some surprises in regards to where these airports were located , with 7 airports located above 1000 meters . Click here for the full data visualization I created using Tableau Public.

And remember, no matter how high you’re flying up in the air, your median landing zone’s elevation will be no more than 218 meters above sea level.

Carbon Management in Airports – The Highlights of My Master’s Thesis

Most of you probably know that the inspiration to start this blog back in the summer of 2014 came directly from the variety of airport-related topics I came across while planning and executing the study for my master’s thesis. Only recently I finished my program of study at the University of British Columbia, and I decided to share a few interesting facts with you before the holiday season starts in many different parts of the world. This way, you will have something to think about if you go through airports and travel by air during this festive season. In addition, the finalization of the Paris Agreement this month brought some positive results environmentally speaking (even though the issue of aviation specifically will be dealt separately), and I want to connect it to my personal study.

The goal of my study was to understand the different ways airports monitor, manage, and report their carbon emissions, including the constraints they can face, and successful elements of collaborative carbon management currently used by airport authorities. It’s important to remember that airports started getting guidance about ways to monitor and manage carbon emissions in 2009-2010, by both ACRP and ACI-World, and it was really interesting to study what has been done in this relatively short period of 5-6 years. Even though a future of of CO2-neutral airports (including carbon-neutral airplanes) is still far, I had to begin somewhere.

Business People in the Airport

How far is this future?

Fact 1  – Perceived environmental management priorities
Aircraft noise and Local Air Quality (LAQ) are still the highest priorities for airports in regards to environmental management, for both current and planned policies. It makes sense, since nearby communities are exposed to those two adverse impacts and react immediately, unlike GHG emissions that affect globally and cause less immediate reaction. Carbon management is ranked as a higher priority in future policies, probably because of the growing awareness this issue gets, especially in the recent days, given the Climate Summit in Paris.

Fact 2 – Constraints on carbon management in airports
The lack of government regulation that requires airports to collaborate with tenants on the issue of carbon management is perceived as the biggest constraint on collaborative carbon management with tenants in regards to current policies. However, in future policies, the cost of implementation of technical solutions is perceived as a bigger constraint. In addition, reaching consensus with tenants over the implementation of several types of solution was mentioned as a constraint only regarding future policies.

Fact 3 – The need to develop new GHG reporting standards for the airport industry
It is necessary to develop unified GHG reporting standards for airports that better reflect the technological interdependence between airports and aircrafts, attributing some of the responsibility of GHG emissions generated by landing and take-off (LTO) cycles to airports. Nowadays, airports treat aircraft emissions as “indirect emissions” even though aeronautical revenues still account for the majority of the revenue sources of airports. A better approach for airports’ GHG reporting would be equivalent to the model used by cities that go by geographic boundaries, rather than emission sources ownership.

Fact 4  – Lack of access to tenants’ data
66% of the respondents reported a difficulty to some degree in getting access to tenants’ emissions data. Among the incentives for tenants to share data with airport authorities several options were mentioned: financial incentives, government regulation, requirements in the lease agreement, data confidentiality, and a more streamlined internal GHG reporting process.

If you’re curious to know more, I invite you to take a look at my actual thesis (published at the UBC website) and learn more about the study.
I’d love to hear your feedback.

Happy Holidays to all my readers!


Where are all those air passengers coming from?

My research work for my master’s thesis (I’m planning on posting a link to it here next week) involved a lot of reading and analysis of current trends in air-travel. I’ve seen the fact that most of the current and projected growth in air-travel occurs and will occur in developing nations mentioned in a few sources, so I decided to take advantage of a data visualization tool called Tableau Public, as well as available data that I could find for free online, and go and check it out. I entered the World Bank’s website, and built an interactive visualization (aka “Viz”) about trends in air-travel in the following countries:

  • The US
  • China
  • Brazil
  • France
  • India
  • The UK

These countries represent developed and developing nations in several geographic regions around the world. The first tab shows the growth in air travel in these countries (showed as percentages) in the years 1990-2014 , pretty much after both the US and the EU went through airline deregulation processes (1970s-1980s) that fostered growth in the number of airlines allowed to operate in each route and increasing seats capacity. The former Soviet Union collapsed around that time and that opened up markets like China to open up to the world, causing an increasing number of passenger flows inside and outside China and other developing nations. Substantial growth in air-travel was occurring in India and Brazil too, both developing nations, while in the US, the UK, and France, the growth in air-travel was relatively modest in the given time period.

The interesting thing this interactive viz helps us understanding is that while in developing nations a larger portion of the population flies, most of the growth in air-travel in developed nations could occur as a result of the same people flying more frequently for leisure, work, and family/friends visits, since the share of the population flying exceeds 100% in 2014.

The second tab shows trends in air-travel between 1970-2014 (based on available data). In the 1970s , the US was the main market for air-travel with the largest growth. However, when it comes to air-travel nowadays both the EU and the US do not grow exponentially anymore. Such future where most of the growth in air-travel happens in developing nations is very interesting, and offers all sort of different scenarios, from the formation of new hub-airports in different regions of the world, to some very hard questions to answer, in regards to environmental implications, and coping with the demand for qualified pilots in emerging markets.
I’d love to hear your feedback.


Air Passengers By The Numbers

The Weather, The Traffic, and The Road

We all remember that moment when we took a road test and we were asked about potential hazards in the driving environment. A decent teacher would always tell you to mention anything that has to do with the weather, the traffic, and the road conditions. When it comes to airports and the sky above them, the situation gets even more complicated. Here are some interesting stories I found in the past few days regarding the weather, the traffic, and the “road” conditions in airports.

Highway as a Moebius strip

The first story is about the thing we all like to talk about (at least in Canada) – the weather!
I mentioned in one of my past posts that small islands that are served by a single airport can be highly vulnerable if that airport has to be shut down due to severe weather condition. We’ve had a great example of such a case on the Greek island of Rhodes, where a big sinkhole was created on the runway, causing the airport to be completely closed for 10 hours up until the sinkhole was filled. Flights had to be re-routed to other airports, and holidaymakers from Europe were stuck in there for a long time. It’s important to mention that the island of Rhodes is highly dependent on its airport and a substantial part of its economy, tourism, needs to use the airport in order to accommodate the charter flights from Europe. I’m asking myself what could happen if the maintenance work took longer than that? How do you keep things on the island running smoothly? At the end of the day, there are other islands around the world that face the same risk.

The second story is about the traffic. In an era where the tendency is to try to automate everything (Did someone mention the Google self-driven cars?) it was not surprising for me to read that an airport in Ornskoldsvik Sweeden, has an airport control tower that has no humans inside. The people who previously worked as controllers are now supervising the airport from a nearby town, and it is the first airport in the world to use that technology. Small airports are likely to be the early adopters of that technology due to cost saving. However, when it comes to airports that have significant amount of traffic, I tend to question how unmanned airport control towers can handle all the airplanes on the ground and in the air, especially in cases of emergency. In Europe, third party risk to nearby communities from airplanes is considered an environmental issue, and unmanned control towers will have to address that issue too.

The third story is about hazards on the “road”. A few days ago, NBC Bay Area reported about pilots who complained about the blinding lights coming out of the Levi’s arena, making landing at San Jose Mineta International airport complicated for them. It’s interesting to watch the video in the link that I provided, and notice that even the camera could sometimes not handle the amount of light coming out of that stadium during a major football game. Light pollution affects people who live in cities, and as we could notice, it affects even the airplanes who fly above them. It will be interesting to see how such a case is coordinated between the different authorities to solve the issue, since it seems pretty messy now.

Do you have other similar cases or thoughts to share?

Airportonomy is celebrating its one year anniversary!

It is really hard to believe that it has been a little bit over a year since I published my first post in Airportonomy on August 14, 2014. During the past year I’ve learned a lot about the complexity of airports, and I’d like to thank you, the readers, for following, commenting, and reflecting on the things that I shared with you. After all, the beauty of the online sphere has a lot to do with the fact that it facilitates an ongoing discussion at a global level for anyone who is part of the airport community or just interested in knowing more about airports.

I assume that you are curious to know where the readers of this blog are coming from. Therefore, based on the stats that were available on WordPress.com, I came up with a list for 2015, since during the year Airportonomy was up, we’ve “spent” more time in 2015 (Jan-Sep). Ready? Here comes:

Readers by location 2015This map shows us that Airportonomy was read in pretty much every continent in 2015. The legend helps us understanding that the highest concentration of readers is in North America, and more specifically, in the US. Since I was curious, I inquired even more and came up with a list of the top 10 countries where the highest number of readers is located:

Top 10 countries 2015The top 3 countries are all part of the Anglophone world, where aviation and airports have been present for a long time. One of them is Canada, the place where I currently reside. Israel, the place where I’m originally from, came up as the fourth country since I’m in touch with the academic and professional community there, and it is followed by Australia that is part of the Anglophone world too. In places 5-10 we find four countries in Europe, as well as India. All of these countries have major hub airports that are amongst the top 50 busiest airports in the world: Germany-Frankfurt, The Netherlands-Schiphol, Spain-Madrid, India- Delhi , and France-CDG.

LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, are all my sources of distribution, through which I invite readers to take part in the discussions, and keep themselves posted with the new content.

In the past year, I hope I enriched the global conversation about airports, touching a little bit on different aspects , environment, economy, and society, in accordance with the triple bottom line principle that defines the word “sustainability”. These days I’m wrapping up my master’s Thesis and I intend to keep on posting new things I come across. In the meantime, if you have any question you’d like me to try to find an answer to, do not hesitate to ask. We can all benefit from it.

Once again, thanks a lot for showing your support.
See you all very soon!

What is an airport’s lifespan?

Summer is here, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. For many of us, it means going on vacation that may or may not involve flying and going through an airport. As you probably know, summer vacations create bigger traffic than usual and even congestion at airports, especially in major ones that add more seasonal charter flights to selected destinations, let alone in destinations that host major international events, such as the Pan American gams in Toronto this summer. In addition, airlines overbooking flights , as well as long lineups of people in terminal buildings may give us the illusion that airports that are already too “crowded” can only expand and grow, while in fact, that situation is not always right at all.

Around the world there have been quite few documented cases of airports that ceased their operations and were even abandoned  because the industry is already mature (at least in North America an Europe) and not really growing anymore , besides East Asian markets. Here are some of the reasons why airports may cease operations one day:

1. Incorrect forecasts regarding the future demand – some airports were supposed to accommodate a much bigger number of passengers than what they ended up serving. Therefore, they were either abandoned or kept serving a very limited number of flights due to costs that were too high. One case is Montreal’s Mirabel Airport that is now serving only cargo flights, while passengers use the Montreal-Trudeau airport that is much closer to the city center. There are many factors that can influence an airport’s demand, and it’s interesting to hear more about Montreal’s case, as well as other airports here in this video by CTV News.

Other cases can be found in Spain, where an entire airport stopped operating shortly after inauguration due to a demand which was too low.

2. Migrating airports – sometimes, due to airport noise, capacity issues, and obsolete runways that cannot serve today’s aircrafts, a new airport is being built in order to serve a city. Hong Kong, Athens (Greece), and Denver (US) are all examples of such cases. Some places have been more successful than others in converting the land to other purposes, such as the case of Denver Stapleton Airport that is now a residential area. Other places are still struggling what to do with the land , such a the case of the old international airport in Athens the looks pretty spooky in the photos, just like any other place people used to attend but not anymore. Given the high economic uncertainty in Greece nowadays, it’s hard to even try and predict the new usage of that land.

3. Geopolitical changes – since national borders can change and have changed, and airports can be located in contested territories, their abandonment is sometimes inevitable. Sadly, the future of those facilities is highly uncertain, especially in areas where a resolution to the conflict is far from being implemented. Two good cases are the former Nicosia International Airport on the island of Cyprus, which ceased operations in 1974 after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, and the former Atarot Airport in Jerusalem that is located in an area that was previously claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians in negotiation attempts towards a two-state solution, and ceased operations due to  security issues during the second Intifadah in 2000.

All the cases above teach us that airports, just like other types of infrastructure , do have a lifespan that can sometimes be predictable, and sometimes not. It’s easier to see it nowadays based on the experience that the already-mature airport industry accumulated. Economic and social factors can cause all the reasons I mentioned, and it’s important to come up with a cradle-to-grave life cycle forecasts for airports that might terminate their operations at some point in the next decades (the foreseeable future), even if it sounds a bit counter-intuitive at this point in the present. There will be some tough questions to answers when trying to determine an airport’s lifespan (since each airport is different). Airports can be very costly to build and operate, and it’s almost impossible to repurpose them to serve other functions in the future.

The former Ellinikon International Airport in Athens

The former Ellinikon International Airport in Athens

A few things planners will have to think about:

1. What are the best new land-use options in places where we had to shut-down old airports?

2. Can airports’ master plans include a component of end-of-life phase?

3. How far in advance should we plan for an airport’s end-of-life?

I would love to hear your opinions about these questions

Plane Spotting – The Next Generation

Those of you who are really fascinated by airplanes know that it’s fun to go plane spotting from time to time in the vicinity of airports and to catch a glimpse of some airplanes taking off and landing. In Vancouver, Canada, we do have some great spots to do it, especially in areas around Sea Island (where YVR Airport is located) or near Waterfront station and Stanley Park (for those of you who are fascinated by sea planes). Here is a photo that I took near the Olympic Oval (Richmond, BC) a few days ago:

YVR airport - view from Richmond

YVR airport – view from Richmond

In the past, one would have to use information provided by the airport to see what’s coming, or just to wait for planes randomly and hope to be lucky enough to catch the more interesting ones. However, nowadays, mobile apps can make the whole experience much more enjoyable. For instance, a friend of mine told me about an app called Flightradar24 that can show you what’s flying around you, either by a screen full of planes, or simply by pointing your mobile phone to sky! I found it to be quite neat, and I’m sure that there are other apps that can also provide the same service. On top of that, Flightradar24’s Facebook fan page provides explanation about interesting flight paths spotted on the online map around the world. This information can allow you to do plane spotting not just near airports, but basically everywhere.

Plane spotting is a socio-cultural phenomenon associated with airports, and some places around the world are known to have extremely close views of airplanes, such as the island of St. Maarten in the Caribbean sea:

What interesting locations/apps do you know for plane spotting?

Airports Can Have Personalities Too

During the last week I came across two anecdotes that came out in the online press, and I thought it would be nice to share them with you. Both of them show how airports can have their own “personality” as a place, beyond just serving flows of passengers and airplanes.

The first anecdote is from the Washington Post, and it talks about the controversy around one of the airports owned by the Washington Airport Authority. After reading it, it turned out to me that the way people call that airport depends primarily on their political affiliation, and even 17 years after the name was changed to “Reagan” many people, especially D.C.- area democrats, would not call it this way. A majority of republicans call it “Reagan” , while a majority of democrats prefer the former name “National” , according to the survey that was published in the article. Young people, however, are less affected by political affiliation, and the majority of them go by the actual name “Reagan”. The results of the survey seem pretty obvious, but I find it to be a great example of how we create “personality” to airports.

The second anecdote is taken from the 90.9WBUR homepage about a new website called airportcod.es that was created by Lynn Fisher and Nick Crohn, two web designers from the Phoenix area, who share the same passion for airports and aviation that I do. They did a great job coming up with an open source platform that contains over 400 airport codes (IATA), photos, and descriptions of interesting stories behind those IATA codes. If you have a bit of time, please check it out, and if your airports is not there, you can help updating the content. One story that really caught me since I live in Canada was about the mystery around why most Canadian airport codes start with the letter Y. After reading the article that had no definitive answer, I decided to represent the Canadian case graphically and let you see for yourself, hoping that you might be able to solve the mystery. Using online data and the QGIS software, I filtered for large airports in Canada and the US, and got those interesting results on the map that I created. I added arrows to highlight some of the more well-known Canadian Airports (some of them are still missing on the website):

Canadian Airport Codes (Click to enlarge)

Canadian Airport Codes (Click to enlarge)

  • YYZ – Toronto-Pearson
  • YVR – Vancouver
  • YUL – Montreal-Trudeau
  • YOW – Ottawa
  • YHZ – Halifax
  • YYC – Calgary
  • YEG – Edmonton
  • YWG – Winnipeg

I was wondering if any of the readers might have a clue about the Canadian “Y” mystery.

Do you have other examples of an airport’s personality? Pease share them with everyone.   

Why is it going to be hard to come up with standards for a truly sustainable aviation?

Those of you who read the page about me know that in addition to being a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, I’m a LEED Green Associate. I studied how the LEED standard is applied, and what’s its definition for sustainable buildings and communities. I was asking myself what would it take to make a similar standard for sustainable transportation systems , aviation, and airports in particular.

LEED has a clear idea of bringing buildings closer to a “closed system” state, which means, that there’s almost no new input needed to operate/build the building (e.g. water, materials, electricity, etc) since some of these inputs are created in the building (renewable energy) or come from a recycled source (grey water, salvaged materials needed for constructions). This is a great definition for a sustainable building/community since you can easily measure the (hopefully) reduced impact on the natural environment in the long run. For transportation, however, the case is slightly different. Even though some airports have their terminal buildings LEED certified, I think that a broader look at the system is needed to determined what the areas that need improvement are, and what will it take to create such a standard for transportation systems.

I’ll try to go over the LEED categories and see where there’s a potential for overlap, and what areas might need to be changed/added in a future standard that will be aviation-specific:

1. Location and Transportation: does the location preserve environmentally-sensitive places and take advantage of existing infrastructure, community resources, and public transit?

Suppose we try to apply it to the case of airports, we would need to make sure that airports need to be in a non-sensitive area, such as flood plains, or areas next to the sea that are prone to a future sea-level rise. This is already a challenge, since I mentioned in one of my previous posts that some airports, including major ones, were located next to bodies of water to ensure a smooth landing. A new definition for a “good location” might be needed here, and a one that takes into account noise in nearby communities. A linkage to public transit could be a potential area of overlap.

2. Sustainable Sites: is the selected site able to maximize sustainability?

This category addresses the preservation of as much rain water as possible, biodiversity, etc. in the area of the development. There are plenty of practices that are already used by airports and other facility managers in the built environment. I see a big overlap here, and I would add an additional sub-category for airports that have de-icing equipment (they will need to demonstrate preventing water pollution by doing things to keep the de-icing liquid away from the getting into sources of water).

3. Water Efficiency: what can you do to save on exterior and interior water use?

Same as the previous category, some practices are already in place in many built-environment settings.

4. Energy and Atmosphere: how can you save energy, cut energy costs and encourage green energy development and use?

This is in my opinion, the most problematic issue. Only 5% of the air-travel emissions come from airports, and the rest, from flights [1]. 95% of the transportation nowadays is powered by oil-based fuels [2]. Even with minimizing aircrafts’ weight, it’s impossible to reduce fuel-consumption in airplanes significantly, since airplanes are already 70% more fuel-efficient than what they used to be 50 years ago [3]. The only way to change the current state, would be to find a way to power airplanes with a clean and sustainable source of energy and that is going to be a technical challenge. Solar planes are already in use, but in a very premature stage, and it would take a long time until we can lift 400 people to the air using that technology. Another solution is electric-fueled airplanes, but we’ll have to ensure that the electricity used in their battery comes from clean sources, and that’s an additional challenge.

5. Materials and Resources – are your building/vehicle materials sustainable for the environment, and where does the waste go?

In this case, a comprehensive life-cycle assessment (LCA) for airplanes’ life-cycle will be needed, including what happens to them after they go out of service.

6. Indoor Environmental Quality – how can you increase the productivity, satisfaction, and health of the occupants?

For terminal buildings, there’s an overlap, but what happens on board in an airplane? A new thinking about air-crews might be needed here.

7. Innovation – what can you discover that isn’t in the rating system to add even further value to the project?

In the case of air-travel and airports I believe that there are all sort of things that can be done that will be specific to the operations of them. A good example might be a ban on take-offs between midnight and 5am.

Sustainable transportation

To sum up, there will be plenty of adaptations needed to create standards for a truly sustainable aviation, but the biggest challenges would be to find alternative sources to power airplanes, and taking into account the entire life-cycle of airplanes, and the work environment of air crews, together with the passengers’ safety that can’t be compromised.

Since this is a very complex issue, I would be happy to hear your ideas about what a future standard for aviation might look like.


  1. ACI. (2014). Annual Report on Airport Carbon Accreditation 2013-2014.
  2. Perl & Gilbert . (2010). Transport Revolutions. New Society Publishers.
  3. Deloitte. (2008). Aviation & sustainability.