Ebola, flight schedules and how the industry can be smarter with travel dataNewsBy Viewpoints | November 17, 2014Share This article was originally published on We’re so used to hearing the buzz words Big Data being used in almost any context these days.Whether it’s airlines using the data to enhance the passenger experience, dating companies using it to match potential couples or start-ups using big data to grow and promote their business, the idea of traditional data has taken a back seat.NB: This is an analysis by John Grant, executive vice president of OAG.When you think of flight schedules data, what do you think of? Holidays; delays; arrivals and departures; airfares; maybe on-time performance?What you probably don’t think of is items on the news agenda, foreign governments, satellites in space - or Ebola.We think of aviation data a lot, and know how useful and wide-ranging it can be.Now, Ebola is an example of a global news story that picked up a lot of momentum once people started looking at the data behind the story – specifically in this case flight schedules and traffic data.All of a sudden who flies where, when and how often became sought-after international data.The press started to reach out to OAG with requests for data in August, and when Ebola really hit the headlines towards the end of the summer and the beginning of October (with the infection and ultimate death of the first American to be infected with the disease, Thomas Eric Duncan, and the first European, Spanish nurse Teresa Romero Ramos) this marked the point at which suddenly everybody was talking about it.These press requests ranged from detailing the number of flights in and out of West Africa over the summer, to how those numbers compared to 2013, to what connecting flights these original passengers could have got on at any given time.One group of scientists even used our data to suggest that ‘airport screenings may not be enough to stop the deadly virus spreading to the UK’.Many of these journalists were surprised that we could fulfil their requests – and how quickly we could access the data. But this kind of data is with us all the time at OAG.We had it in August when the press started getting interested – and we also had it in March, which is when the World Health Organisation (WHO) was first notified of the outbreak.For an industry so focussed and reliant on data it is surprising that everyone was scrambling over this essential data months after the outbreak was recognised, rather than back in March.You can imagine that information about connections to New York, Washington, London and Beijing would have helped us to understand the flows of passengers in and out of both global hubs, such as London and Paris, and regional centres, such as Dakar.If the governments, health organisations and even airlines operating out of West Africa had used this data they would have been able to deal with the Ebola outbreak proactively rather than reactively.This is a prime example of how data could have been used to an advantage – and used in a smarter way.But there are other examples of how data can – and has – been used at a global level and to provide insight outside of the traditional "flight timetable" scenario.The launch of a new space satellite is a very expensive business and "de-risking" this operation as much as possible is in everyone’s interest.With that in mind, OAG has worked on projects supplying data on the volume of flights operating at any time of the day according to a latitude and longitude reference based on scheduled service operations.The price of the data and insight provided, relative to the risk, being of great value to the satellite and communications operators.At the other end of the spectrum, when two "rogue mosquitos" were located in an aircraft on landing in Australia, we were contacted to determine the possibility of tracking all aircraft against schedules, connecting traffic flows and flight status information to assist in understanding the future risk from such "illegal immigrants".Looking at these different applications of our data, could it be that the travel world now has too narrow a view on the "front end" of travel technology, focussing on satisfying consumer demand for the here and now (checking in on their mobile phones, choosing films and food in advance of a flight, who to sit next to) at the expense of using valuable travel data for wider-reaching issues and using the data that is available to us in a smarter way?There are definite lessons to be learnt from the Ebola data rush that can resonate not only for future global humanitarian crises and world events, but also for the wider travel industry.Flight schedules and status data can be used for so much more than tracking the status of your plane before a holiday or providing evidence of a delay for an insurance claim, and OAG’s travel customer base is a melting pot of companies operating in the travel market from OTAs and startups to the international press.As a recent PhoCusWright white paper stated: "The use of a data warehouse and big data analytics are complimentary strategies: each can feed the other."Share this quote NB: This is an analysis by John Grant, executive vice president of OAG. It appears here as part of Tnooz’s sponsored content initiative.NB2: OAG is the global leader in aviation information and analytical services. Unrivalled in its scale and accuracy, OAG's market-leading databases are the trusted source of flight schedule, flight status and aviation data.NB3: Ebola technology image via Shutterstock.