Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Flight Data Visualization: 30,000 European Flights in 2 Marvelous Minutes

At a time when we’ve been thinking too much about flight tracking, we received a superb animation of European airspace data from 422 South’s Andy Davies-Coward for NATS.

Here’s the video (click the graphic), and a mini-Case Study of the process and tools.


The Client

  • NATS: a UK-based provider of global air traffic management services.

The Brief

  • Produce a stand alone animated piece visualizing 24 hours of flights over the UK and mainland Europe based on a combination of radar and flight schedule data.
  • This would be a general tool for raising awareness of NATS in the UK and abroad as controllers of possibly the busiest and most complex airspace in the world.

The Link


  • 422 South has spent the last 5 years refining techniques to visualize complex data in a cinematic, intuitive style.
  • According to co-MD Andy Davies-Coward, ‘We had been talking with NATS on and off for a year or so before they called us in for a meeting; this sequence is the first fruits of that meeting.
  • “We used our own specially written code to extract the data and to convert it into a form that can be animated.
  • “Maya is used to create the dots and lines that represent the individual flights, and to position them accurately over satellite imagery.
  • “After FX is then used to composite the various layers and add cinematic production values.
  • “The whole process took 6 weeks, including various consultations and revisions along the way.”

Key Factoids: European Airspace

  • On a typical July day there are around 30,000 flights across European airspace.
  • Approximately a quarter fly within UK controlled airspace.
  • The total distance flown by these aircraft is 25 million nautical miles.
  • That’s 998 times around the Earth.
  • Or 104 trips to the Moon.
  • On 21 June, 5,675 aircraft departed or arrived from UK airports, of which…
  • … 2,295 departed from or arrived at Gatwick (894) or Heathrow (1,401).
  • … 1,532 were overflights.
  • The video is 1440x faster than real time.


  • NATS is the UK’s leading provider of Air Traffic Management (ATM) services, handling 2.1 million flights in 2012/13, covering the UK and eastern North Atlantic.
  • NATS also provides air traffic control services at 15 UK airports including Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow; at Gibraltar Airport and, in a joint venture with Ferrovial, at a number of airport towers in Spain.
  • NATS is growing its business worldwide, and now has contracts in more than 30 countries.
  • There is more information on the NATS website at
  • And there is the blog post as well for anything specifically on the visualisation.

 Speaking Engagements

Asian Side of the Doc
Chengdu, China, March 18-21, 2014
Panel: Crowd-funding Platforms in Asia
Panel: 3D / IMAX/ BIG SCREENS for Docs

Toronto, April 5-6, 2014
Panel: How to Get the Funds: Co-pro’s and Foundations
Interview: Louis Vaudeville, CC&C Paris: The Apocalypse Franchise

AND, don’t miss Hot Docs in the Big TO.
April 24 – May 4, 2014

Women in Film Summit
Pittsburgh PA, May 16-18
‘Documentary & Unscripted Networks Worldwide: What Do They Want?
What Do They Pay? What’s the Deal?’
Watch out for details