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How Live Airplane Trackers Work: The Technology Behind Real-Time Flight Tracking

How Live Airplane Trackers Work: The Technology Behind Real-Time Flight Tracking

Did you know that every second, thousands of flights are tracked in real-time across the world? This not only impacts airlines, airports, and passengers but also affects the future of aviation as well. Live airplane tracking provides real-time monitoring of aircraft location and status. It helps airlines, airports, and passengers by enhancing efficiency, safety, and the overall travel experience. This article aims to discuss about the technology behind the real-time airplane tracker. Moreover, it focuses on how advanced systems like ADS-B, radar, satellite tracking, and APIs work together to provide accurate and up-to-date flight data, making the airplane tracker an essential tool for modern aviation.

Overview of Live Airplane Tracking Technology

As mentioned above, live airplane tracking monitors aircraft location/country and status in real time. Starting off, in air traffic management, a live flight tracker allows controllers to optimize flight paths, maintain safe separation, and manage traffic flow efficiently. Additionally, when it comes to safety and security, it enables quick location of aircraft in distress and effective emergency response. Furthermore, passengers also benefit by tracking flights and viewing estimated arrival times. Moreover, they also get to stay informed about delays, thus reducing anxiety as well.

In the past, flight tracking mainly depended on the previously filed flight plans and contact between ground-based radar and HF radio communication. However, updated live tracking is now more advanced, and this offers a much broader and more detailed view of air traffic.

ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast)

ADS-B technology improves live airplane tracking by enhancing the accuracy and coverage of aircraft location data. Here’s how it works:

  • Firstly, ADS-B-equipped aircraft use a high-integrity GPS receiver to constantly determine their position, altitude, speed, and other vital information. This data is then broadcast every second by an onboard data link unit using a specific radio frequency.
  • Next, ground stations operated by air traffic control and satellites receive these transmissions. Additionally, other aircraft equipped with ADS-B “In” can directly receive this data, and also provide real-time information about nearby airplanes as well.

In here the system involves key components both onboard and on the ground. Onboard components include a high-integrity GPS receiver and an ADS-B datalink unit. Whereas on-the-ground components consist of ADS-B ground stations managed by ATC.

Furthermore, ADS-B offers several benefits as well. It provides increased accuracy by using precise GPS data rather than traditional radar, which can be affected by terrain. Moreover, it also improves coverage, as broadcasts can be received by satellites. This also extends tracking capabilities over oceans and remote areas as well. Additionally, it enhances situational awareness for pilots, and this helps them to see nearby aircraft and avoid conflicts.

ADS-B data powers many popular flight-tracking applications and websites as well. This allows real-time tracking of equipped aircraft. Here the data is collected by ground stations and satellites, and it is processed and displayed on user interfaces. All in all, it makes real-time flight information accessible to the public.

Radar Tracking

When it comes to radar technology, it operates by transmitting radio waves to detect and locate objects like airplanes. In this scenario, ground-based radar stations send out powerful radio signals, which bounce off objects. Thereby, this allows the radar to determine their distance and location by measuring the returning signal’s time and direction.

There are two main types of radar used in air traffic control:

  1. Primary Radar (PSR): This basic form operates like a flashlight. It sends out a radio beam and detects any object that reflects it and then provides only position and direction data.
  2. Secondary Radar (SSR): SSR acts like a question-and-answer session. The radar station sends out an interrogation signal. Next, an equipped aircraft responds with a coded signal containing their identification, altitude, site, and other data.

Here radar data contributes to live flight tracking by offering a real-time picture of air traffic within its range. Next, the air traffic controllers use this information to manage airspace, identify potential conflicts, and direct aircraft for landing.

However, radar has limitations compared to ADS-B.

  • Radar’s range is limited, especially over water or mountainous terrain, whereas ADS-B, with satellite reception, can track aircraft in these areas.
  • Moreover, radar data can be less precise due to weather and terrain impacts on reflected signals, while ADS-B data, sourced directly from the aircraft’s GPS, offers higher accuracy.
  • Furthermore, primary radar doesn’t identify the object. Therefore this requires additional steps to link the blip on the screen with a specific aircraft. In contrast, ADS-B automatically transmits identification data.

In summary, while radar has historically been crucial for flight tracking, ADS-B has become the preferred technology for modern live airplane tracking systems. However, radar remains a valuable backup and plays a role in providing a complete picture of air traffic for air traffic control.

Satellite Tracking

Airplane Tracker using satellite tracking

Moving on to satellites, they are also important for smooth satellite flight tracking. It has become popular, especially over vast oceanic and remote areas where ground-based radar is limited. Here’s how they contribute.

  • Satellites bridge the coverage gap by offering global reach, unlike ground-based radar. This makes sure of uninterrupted tracking of aircraft across oceans and deserts.
  • Moreover, satellites complement ADS-B and radar by providing a more comprehensive view of air traffic. While ADS-B offers precise location and aircraft data, satellites ensure continuous tracking, especially in remote regions.
  • Furthermore, satellite tracking enhances situational awareness for air traffic controllers by combining satellite data with radar information. This is important for managing traffic flow efficiently and ensuring safety.

Additionally, satellite tracking offers several advantages as well. It includes global coverage and improved safety with continuous tracking over oceans. Furthermore, it enhances efficiency by providing a complete picture of air traffic as well.

How Data is Collected and Displayed in Real-Time

Here’s a breakdown of how data is collected, integrated, processed, and displayed in real time.

Data Collection

The process begins with the collection of data from multiple sources, including ADS-B, radar, and satellites. Subsequently, aircraft equipped with ADS-B “Out” automatically broadcast data packets containing their location, altitude, speed, and identification every second. Next, these signals are received by ground stations, satellites, and radar.

Integration into Flight Tracking Systems:

The collected data from ADS-B, radar, and potentially other sources flows into central processing centers. Here, the data is filtered, merged, and correlated to create a comprehensive picture of each flight.

Processing and Real-Time Display:

Next powerful computer systems process the merged and correlated data in real time. This data is then used to update flight paths and generate flight information, which is then presented to users through flight-tracking applications and websites.

Role of APIs:

APIs play an important role in providing convenient access to real-time flight data and facilitating seamless integration into various applications as well. Moreover, developers can use these APIs to customize data access and perform in-depth analysis. Furthermore, standardized APIs further promote interoperability across different systems as well.

Benefits of Real-Time Data:

Real-time data ensures up-to-date flight information and this improves efficiency in air traffic management. Furthermore, it enhances situational awareness for pilots and reduces anxiety for passengers tracking flights as well.

The Future:

As data collection and processing capabilities evolve, we can expect even more detailed and dynamic real-time flight tracking information. This can potentially include real-time weather data and potential turbulence alerts as well.

Introduction to Aviationstack API

Airplane Tracker using Aviationstack API

When it comes to Aviationstack, it offers a convenient way to access real-time flight information through an Application Programming Interface with only just one click. Subsequently, this API can be a valuable tool for developers and businesses interested in incorporating flight data into their applications or services as well.

Using Aviationstack API

Developers can integrate Aviationstack API into their projects using the API code to retrieve flight data. Moreover, the API provides access to a wide range of flight information. It includes live flight tracking data, historical flight data, and comprehensive airport, airline, and aircraft information.

Key Features

Aviationstack API offers several key features as well.

  • Real-time updates: Get up-to-date flight information with minimal delay.
  • Global coverage: Access data for flights worldwide.
  • Multiple data endpoints: Explore various functionalities through the API’s different access points.
  • Easy integration: Streamline the process of incorporating flight data into your project.

Code Examples

Here are some examples of how to use the Aviationstack API in different programming languages:

Example in PHP

  1. First, you need to sign up at Aviationstack to get your API key.
  2. Fetching Live Flight Data

Explore Further

For those interested in learning more about Aviationstack API and its functionalities, you can visit their website at Aviationstack. The website offers detailed documentation, code samples, and resources to help developers get started with integrating Aviationstack into their projects.

Real-world Applications of Live Airplane Tracking

Real-world Applications of live air plane trackers

Live airplane tracking data has revolutionized operations in the aviation industry. Here’s a glimpse into how each group uses this live data.


  • Airlines optimize flight paths using real-time data on weather patterns and air traffic and this reduces costs and passenger frustration.
  • They improve crew scheduling by tracking flight delays. Therefore it minimizes disruptions caused by unexpected delays or cancellations.
  • Monitoring aircraft health and performance data in real-time enhances maintenance planning. This approach allows for proactive maintenance scheduling and issue avoidance.


  • Airports optimize ground operations by using the exact arrival times of aircraft to prepare staff and resources efficiently. This leads to smoother passenger flow and reduced congestion.
  • Improved runway management is facilitated by real-time tracking. Subsequently, it allows for better planning of runway usage and minimizing delays caused by aircraft stacking or holding patterns.
  • Using live tracking data to provide up-to-date arrival and departure information enhances the passenger experience.

Logistics Companies

  • Logistics companies use live tracking to monitor the location and status of cargo shipments onboard flights. This ensures timely deliveries and improves supply chain efficiency.
  • They proactively handle exceptions by anticipating potential delays through real-time data. This enables proactive communication with clients and necessary adjustments to delivery schedules.


  • Passengers track flights in real-time using flight-tracking apps or websites. They monitor the location of their flight plan and prepare for potential delays, thus adjusting their travel plans accordingly.
  • Live tracking reduces anxiety by providing passengers with the exact location and status of their flight, especially for those with connecting flights or tight timelines.
  • Improved decision-making is enabled by real-time information. This helps passengers to make informed decisions regarding airport arrival times, transportation arrangements, and potential delays.

Success Stories

  • Airlines like FedEx have optimized flight paths using real-time flight tracking data. This results in significant fuel savings and reduced carbon emissions.
  • Airports like Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam have used live tracking data to improve runway management which leads to a reduction in delays and a smoother flow of air traffic.

This real-world application of live airplane tracking data demonstrates its versatility and importance across various sectors within the aviation industry.


Understanding the technology behind a airplane tracker is important to get to know of its significant impact on the aviation industry. Real-time flight tracking, facilitated by advanced technologies like ADS-B, radar, and satellite tracking, has transformed air travel. Moreover, this optimizes flight paths and enhances the passenger experience. As we move forward, it’s important to continue exploring and using such technologies to improve the overall efficiency and safety of the aviation industry. For developers and businesses, APIs like Aviationstack offer a convenient solution as a airplane tracker by providing easy access to a wide range of flight information. Moreover, this streamlines the process of incorporating live airplane tracking data into various projects.

Visit Aviationstack To delve deeper into the world of real-time flight tracking and explore advanced flight tracking solutions. Also, you can discover how Aviationstack API can empower your projects with up-to-date flight information and enhance the user experience for your audience.


What is ADS-B, and how does it work?

ADS-B, or Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, is a surveillance technology enabling aircraft to broadcast their position and other data to ground stations and other aircraft. It functions through onboard transmitters and ground receivers thus providing accurate real-time data.

How do radar and satellite tracking contribute to flight tracking?

Radar tracking uses ground-based systems to detect aircraft, while satellite tracking offers global coverage, particularly over oceans and remote regions. These systems complement ADS-B by enhancing tracking accuracy and coverage.

What are the benefits of using a flight tracking API like Aviationstack?

Using a flight tracking API like Aviationstack as a airplane tracker offers numerous advantages. Flight tracking APIs grant easy access to real-time flight data and facilitate integration into various applications. This results in improved operational efficiency, enhanced passenger experience, and better logistical planning.

About author

Shanika is a technical consultant and writer with over eight years of experience as a software engineer in the IT sector. Her professional journey started as a software engineer with WSO2. At the same time, she started working as a freelancer on Upwork. She has collaborated with numerous companies throughout her freelance career. Having opportunities to work with various companies in different roles has allowed her to amass a wealth of experience. Shanika is an expert in web development, programming, Java, Python, React, Cypress, CI/CD, Docker, and Kubernetes. She has significantly contributed to developing products such as IAM solutions, APIs, OCR technologies, test management systems, and front-end frameworks throughout her career. She has also produced blog articles, tutorials, user guides, product documentation, and many other documents, as well as consulting companies to enhance their productivity. Overall, Shanika brings together the experience of a web developer, automation engineer, DevOps developer, software consultant, and technical writer, which is the main reason behind her success as a freelancer. Shanika received her B.Sc. (Hons) in Computer Science from University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka and resides in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
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