We rarely stop to think of just how many people the world’s airlines transport on any given day, never mind form a mental picture of that activity. Now there’s a nifty animated visualisation of how all those different airports around the globe are connected—a total of 3,200 airports and 60,000 routes in all.
It’s the creation of Swiss data visualisation designer and programmer Martin Grandjean, designed to focus less on geography and more on the connections within the vast complex network that makes up the airline industry’s global infrastructure. As Grandjean writes on his website:
A network, in its very essence, is already a map. And the global transportation maps that represent the flight connections rarely make this network intelligible: on a world map, Europe is often a very dense area where it’s almost impossible to distinguish the dots/airports. Ultimately, these maps (sometimes very beautiful objects), do not represent the data itself, but some idea of the complexity and quantity.
For all its vastness, it’s technically a “small world” network. The distinguishing feature of any small-world network is having a lot of locally connected clusters, with a handful of critical long-range connections ensuring maximum efficiency, whether you’re transmitting information or transporting passengers, or even spreading a virus.
That’s exactly what the airline network looks like: lots of small local connections and a few big highly connected hubs providing those critical longer connections. Thanks to that small world organisation, we can usually get from any city to another within two flights — maybe three, depending on your destination.