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Two Minute Tips

Using data to enhance stories about the local airline and airport industry

June 7, 2016

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Federal- and state-level data offers a treasure trove of story ideas or story enhancers for business stories about your city or state’s local airlines and airports.

Most of the data is already readily available electronically, saving the hassle of public records requests. Here are a few organizations where you can find data pertaining to airlines and airports:

United States Bureau of Transportation Statistics

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics offers a full repository of data accumulated from multiple data sources. Through the TranStats database directory, you can search for data by mode of transportation. The aviation page lists the databases used as well as a summary of the tables available from various government forms and agencies. The organization also has a page of quick national facts that you can use to compare your local airports or airlines.

Here are a few ways you could use this data: 

  • Sorting the available databases by “Economic/Financial,” you can find air carrier financial reports, an annual survey of manufacturers, and industry productivity data. These are all good places to start for business story topics.
  • Sorting the databases by location and airline, “Departure Schedule” and “Performed,” you’ll get data that reveals which airlines are most often on time and which ones are not. If your newsroom has data analysis software and know-how, you could also figure out the standard delay time for each airline over a certain period of time. How does this correlate with the airline’s revenue or popularity? How has it changed for a certain airline over the years, and do you see a trend? 

Federal Aviation Administration

The Federal Aviation Administration is the operating branch of the United States Department of Transportation that regulates airport construction, airport operation, the certification of pilots and aircraft. Its website provides aviation data including on-time and delay causes, operations and rankings. Operations data could give insight on how many take-offs and landings happened at a specific airport in a specific time frame. The website has an extensive guide on how to look up take-offs and landings at any airport using a database called the Air Traffic Activity System. Through this system, you can find airport-specific and federal data.

Reporters can use data from the FAA site in many types of business stories. For example, using the Air Traffic Activity Data System you can compile a comparison report of multiple airports. If you have multiple airports in your state or local area, use this information to figure out which airport has the most airline activity or passengers and which may have the greater economic impact based on the data given. Use the same database to compare operations numbers for a specific airport year over year.

Local airports

Airports usually post information on their own websites, and local business reporters can use this local data too. For example, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport usually posts data monthly and also releases annual data in the first few months for the previous year. Carefully analyzing this data can reveal patterns and story ideas. If specific data is not available on the airport’s website, public record requests provide another option.

Also, look for studies others have conducted on your local airport; seek patterns, trends and numbers. For instance, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has an economic impact study on their website by Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business. The report’s revenue and impact numbers could help strengthen some stories.

Finally, pay attention to releases from your local airport’s communications department. Often, these updates contain leads or information about patterns and facts that can generate story ideas or accompany other data you may find. 


  • Chloe Nordquist

    Chloe Nordquist is a national journalist for the E.W. Scripps Company. She has a passion for telling community stories and giving a voice to the voiceless. Chloe has had the opportunity to report across the world, as far as Milan and Berlin. Previous...

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