MapCarte 151/365: Flight paths tracker by Julius Tröger, 2013


Click on the image to view the web map

Web-based dashboards of digital data feeds are becoming increasingly popular. If the data feed is available the chances are someone has made an attempt to map it and place it on a web page. Many fall short, being little more than data dumps but where someone takes time to consider the data structure and the possible user need then they can design the interface and cartography to work in harmony.

Julius Tröger’s Flight paths tracker for Berlin was designed to support the Berlin Morning Post story on air traffic in and around Berlin as the city awaits construction of a new airport. The data has been used in multiple ways by different sites (paid and free) but generally they illustrate the data planimetrically. This creates some considerable overlap in congested areas. Tröger’s solution is to flip the map and give the view depth and the flexibility to show the vertical axis. This immediately turns the map into a 3D space-time cube where height of the aircraft is shown in its relative above-ground position. Colour helps to demarcate different altitude zones and the map can be rotated that allows you to look along a flight path. The paths have a neat radar type shadow on the ground and they can be clicked to reveal details about the noise impact.

There are multiple ways to interrogate the data using different map views, different tabs and a rich approach to data linking and brushing between map and graph components. Graphs give summaries of various measures aggregated to a user entered location and you can isolate particular dates and times as well as certain airlines or individual aeroplanes. Controls are clear and obvious. The map can be viewed in German or English and various results shared across social media. A nice effect is the fading of the map itself beyond the immediate zone of interest – it supports focus as well as giving the overall map a pleasing aesthetic rarely seen in other web maps.

An example of a web map that has gone beyond the defaults for displaying live data feeds and which shows what you can achieve by re-thinking the purpose of the application.