European airspace is some of the busiest and most complex anywhere in the world. Every day thousands of air traffic controllers guide millions of passengers safely to their destinations.

Yet to most people, the choreography going on above them is entirely unnoticed – it quite literally goes over their heads.

Some might say that is how it should be. ‘Why do I need to know about air traffic control as long as it gets me where I need to go?’ might be the argument.

But, that ignores one very important point. Airspace might be the invisible infrastructure, but it is every bit as important as the road, rail and utility networks we all rely on everyday. It is the lifeblood of our island economy, connecting the UK to the rest of the world.

Getting it right matters and we all have a stake in it.

That’s why we created this data visualisation showing a typical summer’s day of air traffic from last year. It’s an amalgamation of two data sources – UK radar data from 21 June and European flight plan information from 28 July – and it clearly highlights the structure of airspace across the continent.

A few highlights include the North Atlantic tracks that connect Europe with North America, the airways that run up the spine of the UK, the holding stacks at London’s capacity stretched airports and the military manoeuvres off Anglesey in Wales.

We hope you enjoy it and that is acts as a small reminder of the incredible work air traffic controllers, working with pilots and ground crew, do every single day.

Vital statistics:

  • On a typical July day there are around 30,000 flights across European airspace
  • Approximately a quarter fly within UK controlled airspace
  • The total distance flown by these aircraft is 25 million nautical miles
  • That’s 998 times around the Earth
  • Or 104 trips to the Moon
  • On 21 June, 5,675 aircraft departed or arrived from UK airports, of which…
  • 2,295 departed from or arrived at Gatwick (894) or Heathrow (1,401)
  • 1,532 were overflights
  • The video is 1440x faster than real time


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