Five Questions to Understand Airline Traffic

January 5, 2016 | Author: Jeremy Dingman

As I drive to work every day with my fellow 1.5 million Phoenicians, I always try to find the best route to hit the least amount of traffic. I know I’m not alone when I say that no one wants to sit in their car for an hour watching the person in the lane next to them nodding off at the wheel. In fact, every morning I make a conscious effort to check my GPS in order to avoid the loads of cars that overfill the highways so that I can make it to work on time. 

Although driving to work is guaranteed to be a drag and is something that no one looks forward to no matter what time of day it is, the highlight of my daily commute is watching the numerous planes that land at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. In fact, it’s something I look forward to everyday when I pull into work and often times, find myself waiting just to see them soar over our building. It seems that during the few minutes it takes me to get from my car to the entrance, there’s a few that fly by one right after another.

Before writing this, I had no idea how busy airline traffic could be as airlines attempt to meet the demands of our fast-paced lifestyles while also balancing modern-day travel restrictions. I had a very naive way of thinking that our airspace is just too large for traffic and there is plenty of room for everyone to fly— and boy was I wrong.

So as my curiosity has grown, I’ve asked five questions to understand what airline traffic looks like — here’s what I’ve learned:

1.    How many people fly every day?
According to the International Air Transport Association, every year 3.1 billion passengers fly with over 50 million tons of cargo. Needless to say, this is an incredible statistic to show how the aerospace industry has grown since the first commercial flight on Jan. 1, 1914 with only four people. 

2.    How often do planes land and takeoff?
Atlanta, Georgia is home to the busiest and largest airport in the world. At 5.7 million square feet, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport conducted over “930,000 flight movements in 2012”and reported 120 flights an hour; that’s two flights a minute! 

Other large airports across the U.S. such as Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), record over 1,500 takeoffs every day on average. In comparison to 2012, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport conducted over 1,000 flights more than LAX every day that year. 

3.    What is the average speed a commercial airplane travels? 
When you’re traveling on a commercial airline, you’re most likely flying in a Boeing®737, 747, 757 or an Airbus®320 or Airbus®340. In an article written by, aircraft like the Airbus®A380 will travel at speeds anywhere between 550 to 600 mph on average. However, factors like altitude determine the speed at which airplanes can travel.

4.    How many planes are in the air at one time?

According to a 2012 article by Dailymail, there are approximately 5,000 commercial airplanes in the sky at any given time. Find it hard to believe? So did I. However, while doing some research, I stumbled upon  This website allows you to see every plane flying in real-time all over the world. In fact, at 7:45 AM MST this morning, there were well over 12,000 planes flying. You can even click on the planes and get information on where the plane is flying, the altitude in which they are flying at, the speed of the aircraft and much more. 

5.    How close do planes fly next to each other?
Altitudes are determined based on a variety of factors such as the duration of the flight, the flight’s direction and turbulence. However, commercial airlines tend to fly anywhere between 30,000 and 40,000 feet

According to the, FAA regulations require commercial aircraft to have at least five aeronautical miles of lateral separation and two and a half miles of vertical separation if the aircraft exceeds 250,000 pounds (Boeing®757 or larger.) However, once the aircraft is closer to its destination and the Air Traffic Control airspace, the restriction reduces to three aeronautical miles of lateral separation.

Although our airspace is not nearly as congested as our highways that we’ve grown so accustomed to during our daily commute, there’s plenty of traffic and a lot to be thankful for when you arrive to your destination safely. For more information on FAA guidelines and air traffic, please visit

Jeremy Dingman

Jeremy Dingman

Jeremy Dingman is the Senior Manager of Marketing for Honeywell’s HGuide Inertial Sensor and Navigation business and UAV Inspection Services business. Jeremy joined Honeywell in 2015 and has worked in e-commerce, channel marketing, digital marketing, copy-writing and web development.

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