How Does Real-time Flight Tracking Work

How Does Real-time Flight Tracking Work

Waiting to hear from a relative or a friend who is flying overseas? Isn't it a natural instinct to find out whether they are traveling safely? Well, real-time flight tracking gives you the opportunity to get the exact position of a live flight.
Techspirited Staff
According to 2008 statistics, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was reported to be the busiest airport; both in terms of passengers and number of flights, by accommodating 90 million passengers and 9,78,824 flights. With one flight either landing or taking off from the airport every 32 seconds, the airline authorities have to be extremely cautious. No two flights should take-off at the same time, no plane should land on the runway from where some other plane is taking off, etc.

International Flight Tracking System

Every airplane has a transponder connected to its on-board computer that transmits an electronic signal to the base. This signal consists of information like altitude, airspeed, heading, as well as the latitudinal and longitudinal position of the flight. In addition, the signal also includes the airline and flight number, along with the plane's identification letters for the base to be able to identify the airplane that is transmitting the signal.

Different flight trackers use different tracking techniques. Hence, all flight trackers may not display the same information. An international flight tracker updates its database from a lot of sources like government, airlines, and airports. Most trackers get their flight data from the FAA ASDI (US Federal Aviation Administration's Aircraft Situation Display to Industry) data feed, European data feed compiled by AirNav Systems, GDS (Global Distribution Systems) and direct airport/airline data feeds. The pilots have to record the flight-plan before taking charge of the plane. The flight-plan includes the expected departure time, route, approximate arrival time, pilot's name, and number of people on-board. As the plane takes off, the flight information is published.

When the plane is flying to its destination, the tracker allows you to visualize its geographical position by making use of the GPS tracking technique. A satellite map displays a bright line from the take-off point to the destination point along with the progress of the plane on that route, in the form of a small icon. To see continuous progress of the plane, the page has to be reloaded every time. As the live positioning of the plane can be viewed every moment, delays can be calculated easily.

There are a few time-specification terms one needs to know to exactly interpret the information provided.
  • Gate Time: The arrival gate time is the time taken to drive to the entry/exit gate, whereas the departure gate time is the time when the plane starts to move from its hanger or gate.
  • Runway Time: The arrival runway time is the time when the plane touches the runway, and during the departure it accounts for the time when the plane starts moving from the gate, plus the time it takes to take off from the runway.
To determine the flight location, the airline name, date, and flight number has to be known. Some trackers may even ask for the airport code. If all details are entered correctly, the flight status will be displayed immediately. It is possible to track a live flight even when the flight number is not known. Only the airline name, departure, and destination info can help to locate the desired flight.

It largely contributes in scheduling the planner efficiently, specially for a frequent flier. However, the security factor is compromised to some extent. With terrorism on the rise, care should be taken to prevent any kind of action that may prove to aid the anti-human cause.
Digital tablet in airport with flight information
Passenger airplane getting ready for flight