Research Usage and Social Impact of Crowdsourced Air Traffic Data †
The mission of our non-profit association is to support open global air traffic research by universities and other not-for-profit institutions.
2. Scientific Publications
3. Historical Database Usage
4. Global Scientific User Analysis
- Governmental users, for which we also include requests from military institutions or aviation authorities, have grown sixfold from eight requests in 2018 to 50 in 2019, with a slower growth in the first 10 months of 2020.
- Requests from journalists and investigative media started from a similar level in 2018 and grew to 12 requests in 2019 and 2020 (to date), respectively.
- Academic researchers make up the bulk of the research requests, beginning with 64 in 2018. In 2019, we received twice as many (127) and about three times as many in 2020.
- Educational users include pupils and students in taught programs plus other, wider teaching purposes. With OpenSky’s increase in popularity, these requests grew strongly from 15 in 2018 to 118 in 2020.
- Finally, non-profit users’ requests have grown with a similar trend line, from five in 2018 to nine in 2019 and 13 so far in 2020.
5. Broader Social Impact
- Investigative Journalism: This group is broadly interested in illicit activities conducted with aircraft or high-profile political or corporate movements using concepts similar to those described in . Requests in these directions are typically from international journalist groups such as Bellingcat (https://www.bellingcat.com/) or other members of the Global Investigative Journalism Network (https://gijn.org). One illustrative example was published by Reuters on tracking the jets of the Russian oil corporation Rosneft .
- Data Journalism: Another popular branch of journalism is using air traffic data to visualize certain aspects of aviation in order to make it accessible to a broad range of users unfamiliar with the intricacies of flying, let alone ADS-B. Typical use cases include the illustration of flight routes at a particular airport or over a country, with an impressive example provided by Swiss newspaper Blick’s team for the airspace in Switzerland .
- (Supra-)National Analysis: Air traffic data can be used either directly or as a proxy for statistical or economic analysis. This use group has increased significantly with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the need for rapid `nowcasting’ procedures. We will discuss these further below. Beyond this, there are global institutions, such as departments of the United Nations, who have requested data for investigating potentially illicit activities.
- Local Activism: Beyond institutional users and journalists, many individuals and organizations require data to establish the actual facts of their specific local situations. This may, for example, happen in regard to long-term disputes around noise levels or numbers, areas, and times of flight movements near a particular airport. Examples of such OpenSky data use are provided by the App Explane (https://explane.org) for the Dutch airport Schiphol (AMS).
- Recreational Use: Lastly, OpenSky has supported recreational use cases related to aviation. The two most notable ones are the supply of live air traffic data to flight and air traffic control (ATC) simulators. The LiveTraffic project (https://twinfan.gitbook.io/livetraffic/) uses OpenSky’s live API and the crowdsourced air traffic database as the only free source of data for populating the widely used X-Plane flight simulator with live aircraft. Likewise, OpenSky supports real life traffic in the ATC simulator Euroscope, which is part of the Virtual Air Traffic Simulation network (VATSIM) (https://github.com/aap007freak/OpenSkyToEuroscope).
6. COVID-19 Usage
Dedicated COVID-19 Dataset
7. Possible Improvements for Researchers
- Coverage: OpenSky’s coverage (see Figure 1) has always focused on organic growth through the crowdsourcing paradigm. As a non-profit organization, it is not possible to finance receivers to the extent necessary to achieve global coverage, let alone redundant coverage. As a result, many research requests regarding areas outside rich and populated centers could not be complied with. Here, community efforts could focus on the existing donation program or language-/country-specific campaigns for those areas with the highest research value.
- Accessibility: The second theme centered around accessibility of the data. While OpenSky collects and stores all messages on the 1090 MHz channel, not all are readily decoded and made available; for example, indicated airspeed or some Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) information . Community-developed tools, such as traffic and pyModeS, have been developed to mitigate some of these issues, as have countless wrappers for different programming languages for the REST API. However, improved decoding, storage, and access solutions would help the accessibility of these data.A related theme exists with regards to better Windows support and support for non-technical users, who have difficulty using the shell/programming interfaces.All accessibility issues can be mitigated by preparing datasets for different research use cases and the publication of the datasets used by previous scientific work; 2020 has seen much-increased efforts in this direction, providing much better leverage for OpenSky’s data.
- Commercial Flight Data: The third and final theme considered any research specifically on the business side of commercial air travel. While OpenSky naturally collects communications data from all commercial and scheduled aircraft in its reach, and can derive some additional information such as origin, destination, or aircraft metadata, it does not provide data about delays, flight schedules, or passenger numbers.To conduct such operations research, further data sources must be found and integrated. If this is possible within the requirements of open science, new areas could be supported by OpenSky.
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|Quarter||Distinct Active Users||Submitted Queries|
|Total 2020 (October 31)||295||5,818,746|
|Total since 2018||415||16,077,613|
|2018 (since March 1)||8||7||64||15||5||165|
|2020 (till November 1)||52||12||197||118||13||555|
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Strohmeier, M. Research Usage and Social Impact of Crowdsourced Air Traffic Data. Proceedings 2020, 59, 1. https://doi.org/10.3390/proceedings2020059001
Strohmeier M. Research Usage and Social Impact of Crowdsourced Air Traffic Data. Proceedings. 2020; 59(1):1. https://doi.org/10.3390/proceedings2020059001Chicago/Turabian Style
Strohmeier, Martin. 2020. "Research Usage and Social Impact of Crowdsourced Air Traffic Data" Proceedings 59, no. 1: 1. https://doi.org/10.3390/proceedings2020059001