Animated Atlas: Air Traffic over North America


A selection of the flight traffic animations. The DVD has higher resolution versions.  
All Air Traffic

This animation shows all flights in the US and Canada. The number of flights reaches a daily peak around midday at about 5,300 flights. Hub airports are apparent in the animation along with overnight flights going west to east.


Aircraft: Airbus A320

The Airbus A320 series, including the A319, A320, A321, is the Airbus answer to the successful Boeing 737 mid-range aircraft and holds about 180 passengers. The aircraft is used by America West, US Airways, United Airlines, Northwest Airlines and JetBlue.

The major hubs of these airlines are evident in the animation. For United, these are Chicago and Denver. Northwest uses both Minneapolis and Detroit. Philadelphia is the major hub for US Airways.

The Airbus A320 series of aircraft are used mainly for longer distance flights within North America. The aircraft also used for flights to Florida and vacation resorts in the Caribbean, as these planes can fly these routes non-stop.

Aircraft: Boeing B767

The Boeing 767 is used for long-distance flights and shorter high passsenger routes. The plane holds about 250 passenger, depending upon the configuration.

The main operators of this aircraft are American, Continental, Delta and United Airlines. These carriers use the 767 for transatlantic flights, coast-to-coast flights and connections between the big cities and vacation resorts with a high number of passengers.

Traffic from Europe is evident in the late morning. In the late afternoon, these flights depart again for Europe. There are many over-night flights from Hawaii and the west coast going to the east.

AircraDC 10 & MD11

The three engine DC 10 was first delivered in 1970. The MD11 is a stretch version of the DC10 with new engines and up to 390 passengers and was first flown in 1990.

The main operators of the DC10 in the North America are Northwest Airlines and FedEX.

The MD11 is used by Delta Air Lines, FedEx and UPS.

In the morning hours you see the Northwest DC 10s arriving from Europe along with MD11s from KLM and Alitalia.

Planes also arrive from Asia (EvaAir, JAL and Thai) and South America (Varig and VASP) during the day. FedEx planes depart and arrive during the day and night in a wave-like pattern from the FedEx base in Memphis. Flights depart again for Europe during the evening hours.

Aircraft: Propeller Airplanes (Props)

Commercial propeller planes include the ATR 42/72, Dash8, Donier 328, Embraer 120 and Saab 340.

These planes are used as a "feeder" for the main hubs. These regional flights tend to depart and arrive at nearly the same time in specific time intervals. The animation shows this as a "flashing" pattern.

The major hubs can be identified in the animation. The white planes are Horizon Air, the light blue are United, the orange are Delta, the dark blue are US Airways, and the yellow are American Airlines.

Airlines: American Airlines

American is the largest airline in the world with over 800 airplanes. Along with its American Eagle subsidiary, also depicted in the animation, the airline serves a large number of cities.

Major hubs are Dallas Fort Worth, St. Louis and Chicago O¥Hare. American also has a significant presence in Miami, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

All of these hubs can be seen in the animation. In addition, arrivals from Europe are apparent in the morning, while departures to Europe can be seen in the evening. There are also a large number of flights from the west to the east coast during the overnight hours. The major hubs light-up between 6 and 8 AM.

Airlines: UPS (United Parcel Service)

UPS is the second largest freight airline.

Its main base and sorting complex is located in Louisville, KY. Like all cargo airlines, traffic is light during the day. Flights arrive at the Louisville hub during the late evening. After 3 AM, flights depart from Louisville to airports across the country.

International Airlines Air Traffic

The major foreign carriers included in this animations are Asiana, Alitalia, Air France, ANA, British Airways, Lufthansa, Iberia, JAL, Swiss, KLM, Korean and Varig.

Daytime flights, up until about 4 PM, are arrivals from Europe, Asia, and South America. Beginning in the evening, flights depart for these same locations. European arrivals and departures outnumber those from Asia and South America. Airports in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have the most foreign carriers.

Foreign carriers also fly between cities in the U.S. For example, Korean Air flies from Dallas to Los Angeles and then on to Seoul.

A fast moving Concorde jet can be seen arriving in Washington, D.C., just before 9 AM. Another arrives in New York just before 5 PM. Both flights follow routes over the ocean.

Airports: Atlanta

Atlanta is the busiest airport in the world by number of passengers. It is also the home base of Delta Air Lines, the second largest airline in the world and the low-cost carrier, AirTran.

During the day, there are consistently more than 200 aircraft in the air at any one time flying from, or to, Atlanta. Three corridors can be observed in the animation: from Atlanta to the west coast, form Atlanta to the Northeast and Europe, and one from Atlanta to Florida. In the early afternoon hours, many flights arrive from Europe.These depart again in the early evening hours. During the night, traffic slows down to just a few flights. Around midnight CDT, flights depart the west coast for Atlanta. After 6 AM EDT, inbound and outbound traffic increases dramatically.

Airports: Denver (DEN)

Denver International Airport is the fourth busiest airport in the U.S. It is a major hub for United and Frontier Airlines.

Denver exhibits the typical commuter plane "flash" pattern with many flights arriving and departing at about the same time. The late night commuter "flash", ocurring between 10 and 11 PM, is particularly apparent. These flights would be the last departures of the day.

Overnight traffic slows to just a few flights. Trafficincreases dramatically around 6 AM MDT.

Airports: New York (JFK)

John F. Kennedy airport in New York serves international traffic from Europe, Asia and South America, and long distance travel within the US.

This animation was captured while the Concorde was still flying. A fast moving plane can be seen arriving in JFK around 7 AM.

Airports: Miami (MIA)

With nearly 30 million passengers in 2003, Miami is a major North American airport. It has a large number of connections to Central and South America. Miami is a major base for American Airlines for flights to South America and the Caribbean islands. Many international airlines provide service to Miami.

Traffic in Miami is high throughout the day, decreasing only in the overnight hours between 3 AM and 5 AM. Flights arrive from Europe in the morning and early afternoon hours. These flights depart again in the late afternoon and evening.

Two major corridors can be identified in the animation. The first goes from Miami to the large cities in the Northeast and the second goes to the south, particularly to islands in the Caribbean.

Airports: Toronto (YYZ)

Toronto Pearson International airport is the busiest airport in Canada. It is the hub for Air Canada and is served by major U.S. airlines and many airlines from Asia and Europe.

Traffic at Toronto Pearson is high throughout the day, decreasing only in the overnight hours between 12 AM and 5 AM. Flights arrive from Europe in the morning and early afternoon hours. These flights depart again in the late afternoon and evening. Four flight corridors can be located; one going to Vancouver, one to the New York region, one to MontrÈal and one to Europe.

Airports: Los Angeles (LAX)

Los Angeles LAX is the fifth busiest airport in the U.S. and a major gateway to Asia, Hawaii, and the South Pacific. Many major U.S. airlines, such as American, Continental, United, and Alaska, use LAX as a hub.

Three major traffic routes are visible in the animation. The southern corridor consists of flights to Phoenix, Dallas, Houston and Florida.

The middle corridor runs from Denver to Chicago and on to the northeast. The Pacific coast corridor connects LA to San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.

Compared to other airports, LAX remains busy throughout the night.

State: Alaska Air Traffic

This animation shows all flights over Alaska, including the major airports of Anchorage and Fairbanks. Anchorage is the busiest airport in Alaska and a major base of Alaska Airlines. Fairbanks and Anchorage are also important airports for cargo transport. Many international cargo airlines serve these airports.

There are many flights arriving from Asia and the lower 48 states during the day, particularly the west coast. In addition to the west coast corridor, a large number of flights can be seen between Anchorage and Asia. Traffic continues in the overnight hours with many arrivals throughout the night.

Some flights appear to be flying in reverse. This is a problem related to the use of the Lambert Conformal projection at high latitudes with the Flight Trax program.

State: Texas Air Traffic

Includes the major hubs of Dallas/Fort Worth, and Houston. Dallas/Fort Worth is the home base of American Airlines, Houston is the base of Continental Airlines.

During the day, there is heavy traffic, especially around Dallas and Houston. In the night the traffic slows down. In the morning hours there is a large increase in flights in the south central region.

State: Florida Air Traffic

The animation shows all traffic over Florida and the surrounding region. Like all of these regional animations, the larger scale representation leads to a perception of faster moving planes.

Three major airports are apparent in the animation: Miami, Tampa and Orlando. Corridors extend to the north, west, and to the Caribbean.

Hurricane Katrina Flight Traffic

Hurricane Katrina is shown in two parts. As a category 5 storm, Hurricane Katrina was one of the most devastating storms in the history of the U.S.

Here you see the storm moving around Florida over the Florida Keys. At the time that the storm hits the Florida Keys, air traffic at Miami is still active. It is also interesting that there are still planes flying directly through the storm. During the night hours flight traffic slows down. The storm gains strength over the Gulf of Mexico. In this phase of the storm, there are no more planes flying through the center and all flight traffic is diverted well around the storm.

Flight Corridors: East – West Coast

This animation shows all flights connecting the east coast cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington to the west coast cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

During the day there are up to 70 simultaneous flights between the east coast and west coast cities. The flights depart in a wave like pattern, generally every three hours.

During the evening the number of flights from the west to the east coast decreases to only three. Then, at around 10 PM PDT, a large number of flights depart LA, San Francisco and Seattle for the east coast. Many flights leave the east coast cities for the west beginning around 7 AM EDT.

Flight Corridors: West Coast – Hawaii

This animation shows all flights between the west coast and Hawaii. Traffic is dominated by American and United. The many "hollow" aircrafts symbols over the Pacific indicate that the planes are outside the air traffic control space.

During the afternoon and night there is heavy traffic between the west coast and Hawaii.

In the early morning hours, there are no flights between the west coast and Hawaii. Around 8 AM PDT, a large number of planes depart for Hawaii.

Region: Southwest US

This animation depicts air traffic at Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas and Phoenix. Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix are all in the top ten of busiest airports in the U.S.

Certain corridors are apparent in the animation. The first goes from Los Angeles to the north along the coastline. Other corridors form a triangle between the cities of Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. Large parts of central California have no air traffic because of military restricted flight zones.

Night time traffic remains active, particularly compared to other parts of the country.

Region: Midwest US

This animation shows traffic for Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Omaha, Kansas City and St. Louis. Air traffic for these cities is dominated by American Airlines, Northwest Airlines and United Airlines as St. Louis (AA), Minneapolis/St. Paul (NWA) and Denver (UAL) are major hubs of these airlines.

During the day, there is much traffic around these major airports. A triangle of traffic emerges between St. Louis, Denver, and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

During the night, traffic slows down to just a few flights. In the morning hours around 6 AM, there are flights arriving form Asia and the West Coast.

Region: Northeast US

This animation shows all traffic for the northeast region that includes the major airports at Baltimore, New York, Detroit, and Toronto.

This region is dominated by Air Canada (Toronto, Montreal), Continental (New York), Northwest (Detroit) and US Airways (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh)

Certain corridors are apparent in the animation. One is going from the major airports to Europe. Another corridor is visible from New York and the capital region to the west. Other corridors form a triangle between the cities of New York, Montreal and Detroit.

During the night, traffic slows down to just a few flights. In the early morning, there are flights arriving form the west and from Europe.

Region: Southeast US

This animation shows all flights over the southeast.

During the day, there is heavy traffic around the major airports like Miami and Atlanta. These airports can be clearly located in the animation. Atlanta is the busiest airport in the world and Miami has many international flights.

In the evening hours, many flights depart the major airports for Europe. During the night, the traffic slows to just a few planes. In the early morning, beginning around 5 AM EDT, there are flights arrive from South America and leave Miami for South America. In the morning hours, there is a huge increase in flights around the major airports.