(For Class: Mining the Web: How to Scrape, Analyze & Map Open Data) – Final Project Brainstorming


Write a brainstorming blog post with 3-5 ideas for potential questions you’d like to explore for your final project. Include the ideas on the relevant data you would want to use, thoughts on how you might present it, and a short description of why you think the question would be interesting to explore. Be prepared to present this information in class for a discussion and feedback from me on your project.

Even amidst the deepest of conversations had while strolling about this fine city, I consistently find myself hopelessly distracted by overflying airplanes. And not just that they exist (think: “squirrel!”), but my mind becomes completely dominated with questions like: where is it going? where is it coming from? what type of plane is it? what airline is it? what approach procedure is it following? which *runway* is it going to land on? etc. etc. And while some have expressed bewilderment at my apparent airplane fetish, others have assured me that I am not alone.

I’m going to assume that most NYers notice the planes, but have become numb to them (unless of course they appear to be flying precariously low). We have three major airports in the area, so there are literally dozens of very heavy aluminum jet-A fuel-filled flying objects dancing above our heads at any given moment. Wouldn’t it be illuminating and possibly even beautiful to not only see these planes, but to make tangible the incredible work done by the Air Traffic Controllers both in the towers and on the ground? (ATC on the ground takes place at a TRACON Center –Terminal Radar Control. NY TRACON is located in Westbury, Long Island).

That being said, I want to create a visualization of flight paths in the NYC metro area.

Some questions I have in mind are:

1) If I take a look at flight paths and wind patterns, does it become apparent that shifting flight paths are the result of changes in weather (specifically wind direction)?
2) Since I believe that the three major airports in the NYC area (and likely Teterboro and Stewart as well) all coordinate their ATC procedures, I’d like to investigate this visually.
3) How does the time of day affect the flight paths?
4) What happens during a missed approach/”go-around”?
5) Are there areas of the city noticeably avoided by overhead aircraft?
6) Seeing this in a multidimensional way may add even more to the story, since “the dance” involves keeping planes separated not only horizontally but vertically. In addition, while the approaches and departures of the various airports seem to collide on a two-dimensional plane, it would be interesting to explore this in a three-dimensional space (perhaps a project for another time.)
7) Lastly, would overlaying maps of actual sky vectors and/or approaches/departures actually assist in demystifying the question of why an airplane is flying the specific path it’s flying? These could be layers that can be turned on and off and set up with a transparent slider (possibly also an edition to the project for another time).

In terms of data and presentation, the data will be the most difficult in the sense that I’m not entirely how to go about it. As I said in a previous post about flight paths, ATC data is government data and is restricted, or available through a geospatial consulting firm at a hefty price. Currently, I’m thinking of ways to look at this data over a shorter period of time, say, over the course of a few days to a week, and acquiring that data by scrapping it from a website such as Flightaware or FlightRadar24. The data exists in two formats that I’m aware of: either as a table of latitudes and longitudes and also as a KML download. Once downloaded, it would have to be cleaned up and categorized by arrivals and departures and by the NYC arrival/departure airport (e.g. EWR, LGA, or JFK, etc.)

Regarding wind data, the wind map gets its data from the National Digital Forecast Database. Perhaps I can use that as a source of wind direction as well…

The presentation style will simply be an animated and dynamic map of the flights, wind, if time permits, and possibly some other overlay layers, such as skyways and/or arrival/departure procedures, both of which are easily accessible as PDFs, so may need to be digitized or at the least georeferenced.

Inside a TRACON Center
A snapshot of flights over the NYC Metro are
A snapshot of flights over the NYC Metro area, a bit of a mess to the untrained eye. (p.s. that large red plane about to overfly the NY Harbor is the A380, the somewhat rare and giant double-decker Airbus, just about to end a 14+ hr flight from Dubai to JFK.)

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