The Exquisite Geometry of Global Flight Paths

As revealed by a billion dots of color.

Image
Contrailz

Because it feels right now like air travel is fraught with danger, we thought we'd pull back for a minute from that availability heuristic to gawk at the beauty of the global flight network as it appears from beyond 40,000 feet.

If you have not already stumbled across Contrailz, Alexey Papulovskiy's worldwide map of civilian plane built with a billion dots, you will easily get lost here. Airplane routes are always a visually rich topic. Our John Metcalfe wrote earlier this spring about a lovely animation of flight paths over the U.S. Contrailz, though static, extends these patterns to the entire globe. In fact, some of the most interesting mid-air designs occur far from airports, out at sea or north of Cananda, where the repeated routes of long-distance flights create a kind of reassuring rhythm.

Papulovskiy's map, built with flight data from October of last year, plots higher altitudes in blue and lower altitudes in red. As a result, you can watch planes circle and land outside of London, even as others bypass the city overhead.

Amsterdam in particular looks a little odd:

And Moscow, which did not allow civilian airplanes directly over the city's airspace until earlier this year:

All images courtesy of Contrailz.

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.