Thousands of flights journey from Europe to North America and back again each day. These planes criss-cross the North Atlantic, following the most efficient flight path—which usually happens to coincide with the most efficient flight paths of the other 2000 planes traveling over the Atlantic on the same day.
The video below from an explainer video series by Wendover Productions (spotted by Digg) details how the Earth’s shape and the fast winds of the North Atlantic’s 100-mile-wide Jet Stream result in hundreds of planes flying the same routes at the same time over the ocean, where there are no control towers to run interference.
In fights over land, route planners make sure that planes fly at least five nautical miles from each other, but the radar that allows air traffic control to track planes’ positions only extends 250 miles offshore. In the middle of the ocean, there is no radar to monitor planes. Instead, air traffic controllers in Gander, Newfoundland publish tracks based on airlines’ preferred routes, which they submit the night before.
Make sure to watch the whole video, because the routes have some pretty fun names. It’ll give you a whole new appreciation for air traffic control.
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