The first scheduled commercial air passenger flight took place on January 1, 1914, with a short trip over Florida. Funded by entrepreneur Percival Fansler and built by manufacturer Thomas Benoist, pilot Tony Jannus flew a local businessman across Tampa Bay for what is now $10,000. At the time, Fansler said that this flight would “be only a forerunner of great activity along these lines in the near future.”
Data – released in delightful gif form – by Flightradar24 highlights how understated his comments were. In one particularly widely shared tweet, the plane-tracking company shows that, on June 29 of this year, 202,157 flights were tracked, the first time they’ve ever recorded more than 200,000 in 24 hours.
It’s a clearly mesmerizing gif that nicely highlights common flight paths and major aviation hubs. The US and Europe, as well as much of South-East Asia, are constantly covered in flight icons. You can also see the opposite in the southern Pacific and Indian Oceans, and to a large extent the southern Atlantic Oceans – few, if any, flights ever pass over these remote watery realms.
Little patterns can also be spotted if you look closely enough. As night turns to day in Europe, the number of flights from there to the US increases dramatically. At the same time, as day turns to night in Australia, the desert continents incoming and outgoing flights drop off significantly.
On the company’s blog, they note that there have been three days in total this summer where the total number of flights per day has exceeded 200,000. June 29 was followed by another on July 12, and it appears the peak took place on July 13, when 205,468 flights took places in 24 hours. As it so happens, Fridays, like July 13, are always the busiest flight days.
The blog notes that, as the summer goes on, this record is suspected of being broken several times. Their previous data indicates that peaks tend to occur near the end of August, but at the time of writing, there’s no clear indication that July 13 has been superseded yet. We’ve reached out to the company to check.
Update: Turns out a new peak was reached, this time on July 19.
If you were curious, the flight low occurs on December 25: Most people have managed to get to where they want to be for Christmas, and plenty of airlines don’t fly on that day anyway.
Incidentally, this image also highlights how pervasive and difficult the problem of tackling climate change is. Transportation is an enormous contributor to humanity’s overall greenhouse gas budget; in the US alone, aviation makes up 11 percent of all transportation emissions.
Although people can make small differences by flying less or planting trees to offset their travel, the ultimate solution will require a complex, industry-driven change to the way it fuels their machines. Ideas on a postcard, please.