Brookings exercise with air traffic data

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Toward the goal of sharing something kind of cool that I’ve been sitting on for two years now, I suppose there is no shame in uploading an infrastructure research brief exercise for a Brookings Institution position that I did not get. Full disclosure, Brookings was great and no hard feelings after not ultimately winning the position (truly an honor to do a final round with them), but even after 4 interviews (one in DC), 90% of the time spent toward this was working with this massive data set from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics that included two separate data sets containing records of every flight movement in the nation; whether it was commercial or cargo, passenger/cargo counts, departure/destination city, etc. My task with Brookings was to analyze all of the data, combine the data sets to represent traffic between MSAs and not individual airports, and then analyze which MSAs have lost the most flights and flight seats between each other and the policy implications of this.

I have enough self awareness in retrospect to see how clunky and conservative my document branding was. I think I was onto something toward sticking with a clean classic look, with red/blue color scheme, but was still attempting to do way too much in the infographic with a graph, map, and not enough context.

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Report/graphic design aside, I think the data is still incredibly interesting. This represents all the largest losses in seats and passenger counts between MSAs, which appear to follow a few trends of hub-to-hub and easily drive-able trips; the latter of which has been more impacted by security/TSA hassles that add a greater percentage of additional time. In practical terms, air traffic between Chicago and Indy has plummeted (and several other short routes) as it now takes one about as long to get through TSA regular security as it does from the Chicago Loop to Gary by car. When you subtract those trips, what you’re left with is simply hub consolidation; hubs are getting fewer (Cincinnati lost its Delta hub during this time frame), and hubs are handling more traffic between non-hub cities and flying less to each other (DC – Atlanta – NYC all with less seats in between).


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