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Highways In The Sky Over The Atlantic Ocean Keep Air Traffic Organized

A highly organized set of rules and procedures allow efficient traffic flow between North America and Europe.

More than two thousand flights a day cross the North Atlantic. However, there is no radar coverage over the North Atlantic, so planes must fly according to a unique set of procedures. They follow a set of daily tracks that behave like highways in the sky.

These are called North Atlantic Tracks, or NATs. The tracks are used by planes that fly at altitudes between 29,000 and 41,000 feet. In this way, the planes can steer clear of each other, as there are potentially hundreds of planes all traveling the same route at the same time, with no direct radar coverage.  Airliners use satellite-based tools and HF radio to report position and communicate with controllers in Canada, Scotland, New York or Santa Maria depending on their location.

The North Atlantic tracks are flexible.  They are changed daily to take maximum advantage of jet stream winds. The jet stream winds have an average wind speed of about 110 miles an hour, sometimes much higher. Planes that fly in and with these winds can cut an hour or more off their arrival times. For instance, an eastbound flight from New York to London normally takes about six hours and 15 minutes but over time a flight can shave almost an entire hour by taking advantage of the winds. The return flight back to the US is against the winds though. A flight from London to New York could take almost seven hours.

NATs are an amazing example of international cooperation to ensure safe and effective travel across the Atlantic.

The video was produced by Wendover Productions.

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