Is the use of Flightradar24 legal?

Real-time radar "Flightradar24" : On the trail of the aircraft

Lufthansa had not even announced its change of course on Tuesday, when it was already on the network. On the way to Tel Aviv, the cargo plane LH 8340 turned off in front of Cyprus, as Flightradar24.com showed. Shortly afterwards, the airline announced that the connections to Ben Gurion Airport would be suspended for the time being for security reasons. Other companies like Delta Airlines also changed their route at short notice, as was shown on Flightradar24. Almost all passenger flights worldwide can be followed live on the website - this is made possible by a special form of crowdsourcing from which not only aircraft fans benefit, as the alleged shooting down of the Malaysian MH 17 aircraft over the Ukraine last week showed.

The website counts around seven million visitors per month, but after the accident in Ukraine, the service collapsed due to the high level of interest. What many users could not believe: That other airlines such as Lufthansa and Thai Airways had flown over the contested region, as they could follow on Flightradar24. Finnair even claimed on Twitter to avoid Ukraine, but Flightradar24 proved otherwise. The Finnish airline had to apologize.

The website was actually created out of a hobby in 2006. Two aircraft enthusiasts Swedes always wanted to be informed about which aircraft can be seen in the sky above them. That is why they built a network of so-called ADS-B receivers in Northern and Central Europe. ADS-B stands for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, roughly translated as: automatic on-board surveillance. Around 65 percent of passenger planes are now equipped with ADS-B transponders, which send the position of the aircraft and other data such as flight number, aircraft type, time signal, speed, altitude and planned flight direction to air traffic control every second. These signals also go to the ADS-B receivers that Flightradar24 uses. They are automatically entered on the website so that the individual machines can be tracked in real time. Since the signals do not have a specific receiver, tracking is legal, assures Flightradar24. For security reasons, however, the signals from US airlines are displayed with a five-minute delay.

In fact, airports and airlines are also working with flight radar to provide better data. For this purpose, around 4,000 supporters worldwide are currently equipped with ADS-B receivers - they form the crowd that Flightradar delivers the necessary data. The supporters get the technology for this free of charge from Flightradar24, in return they receive premium access to the website. “However, some regions are not yet adequately covered, such as Africa or the oceans. That is why some flights cannot be tracked over the entire route, ”explains Flightradar24 boss Fredrik Lindahl. The range of an ADS-B receiver is around 150 to 200 kilometers, sometimes up to 400 kilometers. The aim is to further expand the network. Around 15 ADS-B recipients are currently being sent to Africa each week. “Overall, interest in our service is growing,” says Lindahl. On the one hand, because the technology is getting better and better. “But above all because flying is becoming more and more common for many people and they therefore want to be better informed,” explains Lindahl.

In addition to Flightradar24, there are also other services that offer such a real-time service such as Radarvirtuel.com or Flightaware.com. The Swedes, however, are among the best-known providers. The company based in Stockholm now has twelve employees. The website is financed through advertising, a premium version with additional features and app sales for smartphones and tablet computers. Lindahl does not want to comment on sales and profits, but Flightradar24 is in the black, he says.

One machine, however, will never be seen on the website: the "Air Force One", the plane of the US President. For security reasons, it does not send ADS-B signals that can be received publicly.

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