Where does flight positional information come from?

Most flight tracking applications use a single source of data - the US Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Traffic Flow Management System (TFMS) data feed. The TFMS data feed tracks flights primarily within the United States' controlled airspace and contains information for flights controlled by air traffic control.

Pilots file a flight plan with air traffic control before take off that contains information such as:

  • the expected departure time
  • route
  • estimated arrival time

Once the flight departs, the FAA publishes information about the position, altitude and speed of the flight as well as estimates on arrival times. For security reasons the information published on the TFMS feed is delayed for 5 minutes. FlightStats supplements FAA data with data from other sources including airport and airline data feeds to give you both runway and gate times whenever possible.

Some North American flights are missing positional information because:

  • Mismatch on flight number
  • Flight was filed under a different airport
  • Not all carriers elect to participate in TFMS
  • The pilot flew a visual flight plan (private, charter, island hopper, etc.)

To track European flight positions, we use a data feed from a network of interconnected positional receivers that gather ADS-B global positioning system (GPS) data transmitted from planes operating in European air space.

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