Global flight paths

Michael Markieta, a transportation planner working with Arup’s Toronto office, has spent the past year developing visualizations of flight paths crossing the globe to better understand patterns of globalization and intercity connectivity.

After finding the data at open-source project openflights.org, Markieta began to work on visualizations in his spare time. He hopes that the project will prove useful to researchers in various fields needing to understand more about global connectivity. (For example, epidemiologists use information about cross-national movement to track the spread of disease.)

More than 58,000 flight paths now crisscross the globe, but each individual airport services only a limited number of others. Leading the list by number of destinations is Frankfurt International, which has 235 direct flight destinations. The top airports by continent include Atlanta, Sãu Paulo, Frankfurt, Beijing, Sydney, and Cairo.

Displaying 58,000 flight paths becomes difficult when multiple paths overlap, particularly in dense areas such as central Europe and the eastern United States. Markieta therefore used lighter shades of blue (approaching white) to denote shorter and overlapping flights and darker shades for longer flights with little to no overlap. As might be expected, the bright hot spots that appear in areas where many flight paths coincide with the world’s major cities.

Markieta found that there was no need to apply a base layer to the images to help viewers identify different parts of the world. The flight paths themselves trace the outlines of all major continents, demonstrating one of the typical patterns of human settlement: living in coastal regions.

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