On a typical summer day, around 30,000 flights cross Europe, traveling a distance equal to more than 100 trips to the moon. It’s the sort of statistic that’s so massive it’s hard to comprehend, but that’s why data visualization exists: This video from the National Air Traffic Services, an air-traffic control group from the U.K., shows each flight over a 24-hour period in a mesmerizing net of glowing blue lines.
“European airspace is some of the busiest and most complex anywhere in the world,” the organization writes on its blog. Since NATS works on air traffic control, they made the video to remind everyone exactly how much air traffic controllers do every day as millions of passengers fly through Europe. But it’s also an interesting way to think about the scale of pollution from air travel.
Over about a decade and a half--from 1990 to 2006--greenhouse gas emissions from flights in the European Union rose by 87%, and the number of flights is projected to double again by 2020. The EU set up a carbon trading system to try to help keep that pollution under control (though the U.S., China, and other countries fought their way out of having to participate). The tax may help, but emissions are still going up as air travel becomes more and more popular--as the zigzagging lines on this map make clear.
Of course, the huge number of flights isn’t limited to the EU; roughly the same number of passenger planes fly in the U.S. every day, and if all flights are counted--like military planes and cargo carriers like UPS--the number goes up to over 87,000 every day. Here's a slightly less pretty video showing flights in the air over the U.S. last Thanksgiving, and this map even shows real-time traffic.