Three Beneficial Use Cases for Visualizing Flight Data with GIS

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As the larger commercial aviation ecosystem becomes more integrated and as a new generation of connected devices and sensors gain adoption across the aviation industry, the amount of flight and aircraft data available to airlines and airports is increasing exponentially.

The data that airlines and airports generate for themselves can then be augmented with flight tracking and other real-time flight analytics to give an incredibly comprehensive window into air traffic and flight times. This includes the data that is provided by the solutions from industry partners, including the FlightAware Firehose Flight Data Feed – which provides real-time visibility into global aircraft ADS-B positions and flight status.

Aviation stakeholders can benefit from the processing, analyzing, and dissemination of all of that data. One of the best ways to utilize this aircraft and flight data to gain actionable insights is to overlay it on maps utilizing advanced GIS solutions.

During a recent Webinar titled “The Art of the Possible: Leveraging GIS for Flight Tracking,” experts from FlightAware were joined by representatives from GIS solution provider, Esri, to discuss the ways in which flight data could be overlayed on GIS maps to deliver essential insights to aviation stakeholders. Following presentations about their Firehose and ArcGIS solutions, respectively, the presenters shared three exciting use cases that illustrated the benefits that flight data can deliver when coupled and visualized via GIS.

Here are three of the innovative ways that airlines and airports can use flight data and GIS to help make more informed, data-driven decisions:

Easily anticipate impactful weather
By overlaying real-time weather intelligence and flight data onto GIS data and maps, airlines and airports can create a comprehensive and intuitive resource that makes it easy to visualize when aircraft are entering areas with severe weather.

Visualizing weather information and FlightAware flight data within ArcGIS enables air traffic controllers and other aviation stakeholders to easily see the precise areas impacted by severe weather and exactly which aircraft may be impacted by it. They can even set alerts to help notify them when an aircraft may enter an area where severe weather is possible.

To keep all aircraft safe, it’s essential that operators and air traffic controllers know…the general physical location of all aircraft..

The ability to visualize exactly where severe weather is occurring and which flight paths might be affected can help airlines make more informed or proactive decisions. If an aircraft is already in a region where severe weather is occurring, the airline can anticipate delays and respond accordingly. If the severe weather is predicted in advance and overlayed on a map, it can also make it easier to identify the impacted flight paths and reroute them.

As Michael Seybert, an International Aviation Solutions Engineer at Esri, explained during the Webinar:

“[ArcGIS paired with FlightAware] gives us…the ability to ask questions that we may not actually be thinking about. For example, should we be expecting delayed aircraft? What about goods or services that are provided in the aviation space? Should we reassign ground units that have been resourced to a particular gate and move them to a different gate to help drive efficiency? Or do we need to look at diverting aircraft around a particular area that we know has already had impacts on our network?”

Make more data-driven modernization decisions
As the need and demand for commercial air travel increases, some smaller airports might find that they need to modernize and expand their physical spaces – both to better serve their community and increase their revenue.

However, certain government regulations and requirements need to be taken into account when constructing an airport, and making changes to the height or size of buildings could result in an airport no longer being in compliance. Thankfully, by overlaying flight data on GIS information and maps – including the actual construction schematic for an airport – decision-makers can get a better idea of what impact would result if they make changes to airport buildings and facilities.

For instance, if an airport wants to expand a hanger to enable the storage and maintenance of larger commercial aircraft, these solutions will make it easy to visualize and immediately identify if those proposed changes will impact essential sightlines from the air traffic control tower or impede the movement of aircraft and other vehicles around the airport.

…by overlaying flight data on GIS information and maps – including the actual construction schematic for an airport – decision-makers can get a better idea of what impact would result if they make changes to airport buildings and facilities.

“…we know that the FAA mandates that air traffic control needs to be able to see every aspect of the taxiways and the airfield. [If we decide to] raise the roof on this particular hangar [from] 30 feet to 70 feet to accommodate larger aircraft…we may run into an issue,” Seybert said. “We can use 3D spatial tools in ArcGIS to help understand that issue. A line-of-sight analysis shows that we lose sight of the tail of this aircraft if I [raise] the building to a higher height. And this impacts the modernization proposal.”

Incorporating flight data and GIS solutions can ensure that all modernization and renovation decisions are made with useful data to avoid expensive changes later.

Get better, more visual insight into air traffic
The proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) – more commonly called drones – and the increase in commercial air travel have already made the skies more congested and crowded. When you factor in the existence of vertical lift aircraft, the introduction of new urban air mobility (UAM) solutions, and the rapid growth of the commercial space industry, it’s safe to say that airspace could soon be as congested as some of America’s busiest highways.

To keep all aircraft safe, it’s essential that operators and air traffic controllers know and understand the general physical location of all aircraft and how congested particular airspace is at a particular time. And this is just what they can learn by overlaying historical flight data on regional maps.

The ability to visualize exactly where severe weather is occurring and which flight paths might be affected can help airlines make more informed or proactive decisions. 

During her presentation, Dre Feeney, a Business Intelligence Engineer at FlightAware, illustrated how incorporating historical flight paths and data could help a region identify where drones and other unmanned aircraft could fly without interfering with manned aircraft. In her example, which looked at flights arriving and departing from Singapore’s Chennai Airport, Feeney was able to identify one square kilometer hexagonal areas where drones could safely fly up to 400 feet in altitude.

“…if Mike is flying a drone at 400 feet, it’s probably pretty safe in this hex space because the average [manned aircraft] altitude is 4150 feet,” said Feeney. “But if we get…here, and that drone is still flying at 400 feet, we’re probably going to run into some issues because the average altitude is 1100 feet. For drones, you need at least 250 feet of vertical separation from manned aircraft.”

By overlaying the historic flight paths of aircraft arriving and departing from an airport, local, regional, and federal governments can make more informed decisions about where and at what altitude unmanned aircraft can fly. And that will only become more essential as UAM, drone delivery, and other services increase in popularity.

To learn more about how GIS and flight data can be used together to benefit airlines and airports, click HERE to watch the Webinar, “The Art of the Possible: Leveraging GIS for Flight Tracking.”

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