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Seeing a Day in a Minute—24 Hours of Flights in the US

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Hundreds of thousands of flights take off and land each day around the world. On 1 April we tracked a total of 164,209 flights. Tens of thousands of those took to the skies over the United States. In the video below, we’ve compressed 24 hours of flight activity over the United States into just one minute.

A lot happens in the skies above the US over a 24-hour period, so we wanted to explore a bit of what is happening in the video. The time lapse covers 1 April 2016, from 0000 UTC to 2359 UTC and begins during the mid-evening on the east coast and late afternoon on the west coast.

New York UTC -4
Chicago UTC -5
Denver UTC -6
Los Angeles UTC -7

Over the Oceans

We didn’t center the video directly on the United States because we wanted to show the transatlantic flight activity departing and arriving over the United States’ east coast each day. Flights depart from all over the US and join the North Atlantic Tracks on their way to Europe and beyond. On the return journey they follow the westbound tracks, often crossing into the US over New England before continuing to their destination. In the evening in the US (0000 UTC- 0600 UTC) transatlantic traffic flows eastward before returning in earnest at about 1400 UTC.

Eastbound transatlantic traffic departing North America for Europe.
Eastbound transatlantic traffic departing North America for Europe.

It’s also possible to see the arrival and departure of transpacific flights to and from airports on the west coast, like Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. A large block of transpacific departures from California begins at about 0700 UTC and lasts until 0930 UTC (0000—0230 local). The large arrival block begins about 16:30 UTC.

Shipping and Handling

Each night in the US carefully controlled chaos descends on airports in Memphis and Louisville. In Memphis hundreds of FedEx aircraft from small Cessna 208s to Boeing 777Fs arrive with packages, unload, reload, and depart again all in a matter of hours. The same happens in Louisville as UPS aircraft arrive and depart on a similar schedule.

By about 0630 UTC the main arrival banks have ended in Louisville and Memphis and the aircraft are prepared for departure. At about 0800 UTC, departures begin rapidly as fully loaded cargo planes depart back into the still-dark skies over the central US.

An overview of FedEx's hub in Memphis. UPS operates a similar hub in Louisville.
An overview of FedEx’s hub in Memphis. UPS operates a similar hub in Louisville.

Peaks and Valleys

On the east coast, peak traffic activity takes place between 1000 and 1400 UTC (0600-1000 local). The west coast is particularly active from 0430—0800 UTC. At 0700 UTC much of the country is quiet except for the eastbound red eye flights making their way from the west coast to cities like New York, Boston, and Washington D.C.

Eastbound red eye flights from the west coast.
Eastbound red eye flights from the west coast.

There are also consistently busy routes, like the airways between southern California and Florida, or Florida and the Northeast. The western corridor between the Pacific northwest and California is also well-trafficked.

What Do You See?

Is there anything you’ve spotted that you find particularly fascinating? Let us know on twitter or Facebook.

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