Domestic flights: when provinces infect each other
Organisation: Radio-Canada, CBC
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 13/5/2021
Credit: Nael Shiab, Melanie Julien, Santiago Salcido, Martine Roy
Biography: Nael Shiab is a data journalist for CBC/Radio-Canada. He specializes in the analysis of large volumes of data and 3D interactive data visualizations.
At the start of the pandemic, international flights have been the area of concern in Canada. But this exclusive analysis demonstrated how tens of thousands of people, some of whom are carriers of the virus that causes COVID-19, travelled across the country every week without testing or quarantine, at time of publication.
In Canada, airports are under federal jurisdiction. During the first half of 2021, many provinces tried to stop travellers from entering their territory. However, their powers were limited. They could stop cars at their borders, but they had no control over the planes. At the time, several regions had established curfews or stay-at-home orders. Still, people could take a plane, travel thousands of kilometres in a few hours and land in a restricted area (or leave a restricted area) without being tested and without quarantine upon arrival. Meanwhile, international travellers had to respect stringent rules. Canada was very focused on foreigners, even if there was evidence of inter-provincial contaminations.
This exclusive story was among the reports that shifted the focus from international flights to domestic flights. Several provincial prime ministers asked the federal government to close airports or control domestic flights at least. In the end, with the vaccination campaign going on in 2021, the federal government required proof of vaccination to take a plane in Canada.
What was the hardest part of this project?
At first, I intended to analyze the international air traffic in Canada. But while working on the data, I noticed how the domestic air traffic bounced back after the spring of 2020. And I pivoted my complete analysis. It wasn’t an easy decision. With 3.6 million flights in the database, it involved redoing a big part of the analysis and the research. But this critical shift helped publish an essential story that wasn’t told at the time.
For the data visualization, I was looking for a representation that would respect the spherical shape of the earth. Therefore, I went for a 3D globe. This approach works very well for long-distance trajectories and big countries like Canada. However, it was a technical challenge to translate latitude and longitude of the planes (coordinates in 2D space) to coordinates in a 3D space. We did a lot of work on the design as well (stars in the background, for example) to create a unique and immersive experience for the reader.
What can others learn from this project?