flight paths and volcanic ash


I’m a Masters student studying volcanoes, and I’m working on a project to characterize the volcanic ash aviation hazard in the conterminous USA. I want to make a map of the flight paths over the USA and overlay a map of the volcanic hazards from the various volcanic fields and stratovolcanoes.

My question is: what is the best way to make a map that displays the flight paths over the USA with as little bias as possible?

I’ve been milling over some ideas about the best way to go about it, and I would appreciate any feedback:

  1. the sampling period - would it be best to get data on flights over a 24 hour period, or over 1 week? Much easier to gather data over 1 day, but I don’t know if there is a lot of variability in flights from day to day? Is there a day of the week that is most representative?

  2. gathering the data - this seems to be the biggest hurdle… I see that track logs are available but it’s a headache to go through each page and copy/paste and format the data so that I can import it into arcgis. Does anybody know of a source that might have waypoints for all departures from an airport as a single spreadsheet? Is there data anywhere for flights that do not depart or arrive from an American airport, but pass over American airspace ie. Mexico City-Calgary?

  3. making the map - even if I just use data from a 24-hour period, there will probably be an enormous amount of data. What is the best way to represent it? I was thinking to group lines together ie. all paths that are within 10 km and 15 degrees (subparallel) can be drawn as one line, with either line thickness or color representing how many paths are converged in a given segment.


You can use our FlightXML API to programmatically query and save the positional information into your own database for analysis later. See flightaware.com/commercial/flightxml/ for more information. Our positional information will be limited over Mexico, but we should have at least 1 minute granularity positional information available over the continental US.