Something curious has happened on the Apple App Store: the no. 1 paid app is Flightradar24 Pro, a plane-tracking app.
It's undeniably neat: the app lets you see all the flight plans, for all the planes in the sky at the moment based on volunteer and BAA data.
Why is something that has until now, often been considered a niche hobby -- even for hobbyists -- ranking as the top paid app in the App Store?
The obvious answer is, of course, the tragic events that unfolded last week in the sky above Ukraine. FlightRadar24 was already popular, but the boost in publicity and interest in where planes fly, and why, has surely had an impact too.
The problem is that the images that turn up of strange planes on flight trackers aren't always what they seem -- or as dangerous.
With so many conflicts raging around the globe and so many planes flying in the air the inevitable truth is that airlines have to make difficult decisions about where they plan their routes.
With passenger aircraft flying well over 30,000 feet the likelihood is that even if there is a conflict going on, those involved neither have the capability nor the motivation to attack something that has no involvement whatsoever with what's happening on the ground.
Just in case, though there are plenty of redundancy measures in place. As the Economist reports, The International Civil Aviation Organisation is responsible for issuing 'Notices to airmen'. Factors which can result in a NOTAM include the scale of the conflict and the capabilities and motivations of those involved.
Once issued they can set flight ceilings and 'No Fly' zones. This, combined with the restricted airspace over 'sensitive military installations' help airlines paint a picture of exactly where to fly and when.
Apps like Flightradar24 then are mostly just curiosities. They give us an insight into where our planes are flying and also help give perspective to the truth that conflicts are taking place on a truly global scale and it doesn't matter whether you're flying to Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi or Santiago, you'll never be too far away from a region of the world that's in turmoil.
It's inevitable that some will download the app as a means of confirming their own fear; that planes are regularly putting passengers in danger. The truth however is very different.
Flightradar24 operates by showing exactly where the plane has flown and then creates a predictive course for where the plane might then fly on the way to its destination.
As you can see in the image just below this plane looks like it's about to fly over the war-torn region of Gaza, an area of land that has become unsafe for those both on the ground and above it. What then happens is that the plane in fact diverts, as you'd expect.
So while these images show planes flying over or near war-torn areas it's important to add perspective. These are aircraft traveling at enormous altitudes and while it may appear on your phone to be heading into a dangerous region, the app is merely trying to predict where it should go, not where it will go.Suggest a correction