For most people, travel equates to adventure: an exciting and unpredictable opportunity filled with new sights, sounds and experiences. The process of getting to a destination, however, can cause a great deal of undue stress. Consider the fact that two to three thousand aircrafts fly across the North Atlantic every day. With so much incoming and outgoing oceanic traffic, travel – and especially holiday travel – can seem slightly daunting.
According to North Atlantic Skies’ Jim Brunton, “Up to 80% of all Oceanic traffic passes through the Shanwick Oceanic Control Area (OCA),” – the 700,000 square mile of airspace controlled by the United Kingdom. While this may sound like a tedious, mid-air traffic jam waiting to happen, a video depiction of the actual event is anything but that.
North Atlantic Skies, UK’s leading provider of air traffic control services, posted the visual simulation as a way to shed light on the oceanic airspace structures that help make it all work. The time lapse depicts 2,524 flights crossing the ocean over a 24-hour period in August of last year.
The resulting production possesses the elements of a well-choreographed dance – and in fact, managing the airways requires similar organizational techniques. For example, rather than relying on radars that are limited in range, pilots send reports to each other via satellite or High Frequency radio to manage the traffic. A steady flow of reports at regular intervals is used to maintain a degree of separation between aircrafts.
Another major factor in routing flights involves wind direction, which produces jet streams that flow from the west to the east. As Brunton states, this is prime real estate at over 30,000 feet. Due to the amount of traffic operating at the same position of these jet streams, many flights want to fly at the same time in the same place.
Thus, in order to prevent a pile up, “we (NATS) use a system to rationalize the traffic that sees them following one after the other, almost like roadways in the sky.” This rationalization process is referred to as “tracks”, and can also be seen clearly in the video. Its depiction is both intricate and majestic – showcasing how complex the infrastructure of organized air flight can be.