Watch an Entire Day of Air Traffic in One Astonishing Visualization
Some 30,000 flights criss-cross Europe’s airspace on a typical summer day. In this video, you can watch them all in just under two minutes.
Air traffic is a frequent subject for visualization, but the folks at NATS, responsible for handling much of the air traffic control in Great Britain and elsewhere, know the delicate dance better than just about anyone. To give us a sense of what keeps them busy day to day, they put together this stunning video. Running at 1,440 times regular speed, the viz is striking as pure laser light spectacle. But the closer you watch, the more fascinating details you’ll find.
The clip combines UK radar data from June 21 of last year and flight plan data from the rest of the continent from July 28. To start, notice how planes come over from North America, not in one busy throng but instead in orderly rows, like they’re cruising in lanes on some great invisible highway. As we zoom in on England, we see some aircraft joining different thoroughfares to Europe’s big cities, as others split off on byways to destinations like Madrid and Lisbon.
In some of these closer views, we get a remarkable sense of the three-dimensionality of this complicated choreography. From a single vantage, we can see some planes circling low over Gatwick and Heathrow, their holding patterns materializing as arabesques of white light. Meanwhile, other aircraft shoot skyward, climbing toward cruising altitudes.
These perspectives, which show us planes not just as dots on a map but rather as objects in space, leave me yearning for an interactive version to pan and zoom around inside. In the meantime, as the search for the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 presses on, this video is a nice reminder of how tremendously active our airways are every day.