Real-time Air Traffic in 3D

Real-time Air Traffic in 3D



The application presented here shows live air traffic over parts
of Northern Switzerland and surrounding Central Europe.

The major goal of this project is to demonstrate how traffic
data can be efficiently visualised in real-time and in 3D by
combining state-of-the-art tools MATLAB and Google Earth.

The air traffic data displayed are collected by an ADS-B receiver (Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast) on
one of the buildings at ZHAW Zurich University of Applied
, School of Engineering, Winterthur, Switzerland.

The receiver that collects the raw data of the airplanes was developed by Marcel Rupf (ZSN) and his group. The well known application http://radar.zhaw.ch/, which was initiated and designed by Karl Rege (InIT) and developed as part of a diploma thesis at ZHAW, makes use of the same data.

There is a huge variety of other data (static or dynamic), from various fields, which can be visualised with Google Earth.
In many cases the adaptation / extension of the framework
developed in this project is quite straightforward.


      Related website


Starting the application


Install Google Earth (GE), if you haven't done it already (to download: click here).


To get an optimal view of the airplane trajectories, please change the GE settings as recommended below first.


(a) If you use Mozilla Firefox, click here to download the application file. You will be asked to open the file "AirTraffic3D.kmz" with GE. Press 'Ok' and the application will start automatically.


(b) If you use Internet Explorer, perform a right-click
and save the file as "AirTraffic3D.kmz" on your
computer. To start the application, double-click "AirTraffic3D.kmz".

Some notes

Depending on the speed of your internet connection, it might take a few seconds to load the screen overlays and the airplane models after starting the application.

As the initial altitude of GE is approximately 11'000 km above sea level, you need to zoom in to around 10 to 300 km, depending on the area and the level of detail you want to see.

The trajectories and the information overlays on the left side of the screen are updated around every 10 seconds.

Information/objects displayed

Airplane model, together with flight number, last known altitude (meters), and current data status:


A = Active (valid data received in last time interval)
W = Waiting (no or not enough valid data received)
L = Landing

Trajectory in 3D space (colour according to altitude)

Trajectory, projected on ground (grey, semitransparent)

Vertical line, pointing towards the centre of the earth



Quick site navigation


Starting the application

Recommended Google Earth settings

Screen shots and movies

Hints for navigation with Google Earth

Useful links

Software and hardware environment


Comments and contact

Project funding


Recommended Google Earth settings


While you are running this application, disable all layers, except: borders and labels, terrain, and 3D buildings.


To prevent the airplane text become too dominant on the screen, set the label/icon size to small as follows: Select Tools in the GE menu, choose "Options" and set "Labels/Icon Size" to small within "3D View".


Hide the sidebar to see the maximum area/airspace.


Screen shots and movies


To demonstrate some of the capabilities of the tool we provide several screen shots and movies below. Please note that the image resolution of the movies is reduced (in comparison to the original) due to file compression.


  Screen shots  

Approaching airplanes (JPG, 1.1 MB)  

Landing airplanes (JPG, 1.2 MB)


Close-up view of an airplane model (JPG, 1.2 MB)


Starting airplane (JPG, 1.3 MB)


Airplanes in waiting loop (JPG, 1.3 MB)



Tracing airplanes in real-time (WMV, 43.8 MB)


Starting airplanes in time-lapse mode (WMV, 22.8MB)  

Airplane movements during about two hours in time-lapse mode (WMV, 35.6 MB)  

Hints for navigation with Google Earth


By navigation in this context we mean that you (the observer) can move virtually through the 3-dimensional space.
Besides well known standard operations with the mouse (e.g., rotation of the earth), there are two options to
navigate in GE:
(1) by using the navigation elements on the top right of the screen (if active), or
(2) by using the scroll wheel of the mouse together with some specific buttons on the keyboard.



We recommend to use the second option, as it allows more precise and often faster navigation.




Action (movement)




Altitude above sea level

Mouse scroll wheel



Heading: angle of line of sight relative to north,
e.g., heading towards east is 90 degrees

CTRL + Mouse scroll wheel



Tilt: angle between the line of sight and the vertical,
i.e., the line perpendicular to the earth surface

SHIFT + Mouse scroll wheel



Forward relative to current heading

ALT + Keyboard arrow ↑ (up)



Backward relative to current heading

ALT + Keyboard arrow ↓ (down)



Left relative to current heading

ALT + Keyboard arrow ← (left)



Right relative to current heading

ALT + Keyboard arrow → (right)



Note that by additionally pressing the ALT button, the first three movements listed above become a lot smoother.


Useful links

  Software tools and code  


Google Earth


KML Reference


Google Sketchup  

  Zurich Airport  

Website 'Zurich Airport'  

Next arrivals and Next departures


Airport site plans  

Zürich Airport (Wikipedia)  

Examples of flight traces according to IFR to and from Zurich Airport (in German only)  

Monthly aircraft movements at Zurich Airport (in German only)  


Slot Coordination Switzerland


Website 'Slot Coordination Switzerland' (SCS)  

Airport capacity Zurich, Winter 2009, 25.10.2009 to 27.03.2010 (Coordination step: Start of Season)
Number of arrivals and departures per 30 minute interval, CET, Monday to Sunday: Table, Chart


Airport capacity Zurich, Summer 2010, 28.03.2010 to 30.10.2010 (Coordination step: Start of Season)
Number of arrivals and departures per 30 minute interval, CEST, Monday to Sunday: Table (tba), Chart (tba)


  Various aviation related links  

Live air traffic over parts of Switzerland with Google Maps, developed at ZSN/InIT of ZHAW, best known as the "radar" project.


AirlineUpdate.com: International airline industry directory


IATA codes: airlines and airports  

ICAO codes: airlines and airports  

List with airplanes per airline worldwide


FlightStats: Flight, airline, and airport information


Libhomeradar: Library for aircraft information (free for non-commercial use)  



Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA)  

International Air Transport Association (IATA)  

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)  

Software and hardware environment


The application is written completely in MATLAB (release 2009b) and runs on an ESXi 4.0 server with operating system Linux CentOS 5.4. The kml files generated are in accordance with KML version 2.2. The 3D airplane model was drawn with Google Sketchup 7 (Credits to Patrick13 for providing the basic version of the Airbus A340-300 model).




Remo Maurer (Head IT, SoE) for providing invaluable support with the Linux server and for getting it running!


Daniel Kramarz (InIT) for hints on connecting to the web service (raw data).


Comments and contact


Any comments and suggentions are highly welcome! Please find my contact information here.


Project funding

  The development of the application presented here was not part of a funded project or any other ongoing research or teaching activity.  



The application presented on this website is for demonstration purposes only. All kinds of liability claims for the data presented here, their correctness, their accuracy, or any resulting conclusions on true airplane trajectories in the considered airspace are overruled. Nor myself neither my employer (ZHAW) shall be liable for any damage of any kind in connection with the use of this application. All information provided additionally by Google Earth is in the sole responsibility of Google, Inc.



Google™, Google Earth™, and Sketchup™ are trademarks of Google, Inc.


MATLAB® is a registered trademark of The MathWorks, Inc.




© A. Steiner (2010)