I am a sculptor making a world globe art project, and I need a still image of the whole world’s actual air traffic routes to use as reference material.

To be clear, I’m not looking for the ‘air traffic flow’ visualisation, which consists of straight line routes interpolated between the airports. I’m more interested in seeing the structure of the road network in the sky, revealed through the actual movements of the planes.

The visualisation im describing appears to have been performed in localised areas, but not yet over the whole globe.

I found this visualisation by Aaron Koblin of the air traffic routes over the USA. http://www.aaronkoblin.com/work/flightpatterns/index.html

USA air traffic

This is basically what I’m looking for, except done over the whole world.

And I came across this animation by 'ITO World' of the European air traffic coming back to life after being grounded by a volcanic ash cloud. http://www.itoworld.com/static/airspace_rebooted.html

europe air traffic http://www.itoworld.com/static//i/visualisation/ash/ash_europe_x2.jpg

I also found these KML air navigation plans drawn by ICAO:

Scroll down three-quarters of the way until you get to this image:

air navigation plan

...and then click on the links “MID route UPPER operational" for the mid Atlantic, and the 6 similar links below for KMLs of other parts of the world.
They are useful to me, but I find them confusing in places where lines don’t seem to make sense (ending abruptly and not starting again), and they do not cover the open ocean, or show which routes are used most heavily.

And here is http://www.flightradar24.com/. This shows quite a lot of the world’s air traffic movement live. Its receivers do not have full worldwide coverage, and many types of plane do not show up, but as far as I know it’s the most complete coverage out there.

I imagine the best solution for getting what I want would be to make a time lapse image of the flightradar24.com data over quite a long period of time – a month or maybe even a year to even out seasonal fluctuations, which might be quite pronounced in places like the arctic. However, if a years worth of data is unmanageable, then I'll have to go for less.

As I am using the final digital image as reference material for something I am rendering by hand, I will probably be able to infer any patches that are missing - because of incomplete receiver coverage - using the ICAO navigation plans.

So, assuming it is possible, I would greatly appreciate it if somebody could take me through the process of gathering the necessary data from flightradar24.com and creating the visualisation that I need. Please go into detail, as I am quite new to GIS, and am not particularly knowledgeable of computers. I am running QGIS on a 4GB RAM PC. If this is the wrong program to be using, or if my computer is too small for this task, please advise me on what I would need.

I am hoping to make a large GeoTiff (8 tiles of 13500 x 13500 pixels, a similar size to NASA’s Black Marble 2012 image would be good), showing a map of the worlds flight paths. The most heavily used paths would show up darkest and no traffic at all would be transparent. That way I can use it as an overlay on a world map so I can get my barings.

Of course, if any of you find the idea of performing this visualisation fascinating, especially as it doesn’t seem to have been done over the whole world before, feel free to do it and publish the results!

Thank You


There is an excellent blog called spatial.ly that addresses mapping global flight paths.

enter image description here

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  • Thanks for your reply. This is an 'air traffic flow' visualisation, where each route is illustrated as a straight line (great circle route) between the two airports. These are not the actual routes that the aircraft take. There is a complex network of air corridors that the aircraft are required to fly within. A visualisation of the actual air traffic routes reveals this network. The difference can clearly be seen if you compare the europe of the Michael Markieta visualisation, which looks chaotic, and the europe in the ITO visualisation, where a high degree of organisation is revealed. – Martin Jun 2 '13 at 17:17
  • Heres a link to better quality pictures of the Michael Markieta visualistion, for comparison with the ITO and Aaron Koblin visualisations of the actual routes. bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-22657086 – Martin Jun 2 '13 at 17:35

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