Assessing network structure with practical sampling methods An example of the Global Airport Network

By Georgiy Bobashev, Robert Morris, Elizabeth Costenbader, Kyle Vincent

Using data from an enumerated network of worldwide flight connections between airports, we examine how sampling designs and sample size influence network metrics. Specifically, we apply three types of sampling designs: simple random sampling, nonrandom strategic sampling (i.e., selection of the largest airports), and a variation of snowball sampling. For the latter sampling method, we design what we refer to as a controlled snowball sampling design, which selects nodes in a manner analogous to a respondent-driven sampling design. For each design, we evaluate five commonly used measures of network structure and examine the percentage of total air traffic accounted for by each design. The empirical application shows that (1) the random and controlled snowball sampling designs give rise to more efficient estimates of the true underlying structure, and (2) the strategic sampling method can account for a greater proportion of the total number of passenger movements occurring in the network.


Bobashev, G., Morris, R., Costenbader, E., & Vincent, K. (2018). Assessing network structure with practical sampling methods: An example of the Global Airport Network. (RTI Press Publication No. OP-0049-1805). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI International.

© 2019 RTI International. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Georgiy BobashevGeorgiy Bobashev, PhD, is a Fellow in RTI International’s Center for Data Science. Contact e-mail:

Robert MorrisR. Joey Morris, BS, is a data scientist in RTI International’s Center for Data Science.

Elizabeth CostenbaderElizabeth Costenbader, PhD, is a social scientist at FHI360.

Kyle VincentKyle Vincent, PhD, is an independent consultant.

Contact RTI Press

To contact an author, request an exam or review copy, or seek permission to use copyrighted content, contact our editorial team.