2014 Excellence in Visual Digital Storytelling, Small Newsroom finalist

In Flight


About the Project

‘In flight’ is an ambitious data-driven interactive created to mark the centenary of commercial flight. It explores the past, present and potential future of passenger air travel by combining cutting-edge live mapping and visualisation techniques with storytelling approaches more typical of radio, documentary film and TV news.

One key innovation in the piece is the live map. Although air traffic has been visualised before, this is the first time anyone has created a live map of global air traffic over time. It is based on a live global feed of take-off and landing schedules (from FlightStats, which kindly agreed to give us access to their proprietary data). The backend system behind the map makes use of advanced processing and compression techniques to get the data into a format suitable for web use. The visualisation is drawn using Canvas overlaid over a set of zoomable map tiles produced specially for the project.

Another innovation in the piece is the way it combines the narrative ‘sit back and watch’ power of video with the explorability of interactive content. Although at first glance each chapter looks and feels like a video, there is in fact no video in the whole project. Instead, a film-style soundtrack is synced to JavaScript-triggered animations and transitions. This allows us to produce video-style experiences that are fully interactive and can incorporate live data. This is made possible by Talkie – an open-source library created by Kiln to sync audio with code events.

After capturing the audience’s attention with the live map, the project goes on to tell the story of the first airline in Florida in 1914, the extraordinary growth seen in the subsequent years, and the issues that aviation is now up against in terms of its impact on climate change.

Created in a fully responsive full-window template, the piece is mobile- and tablet-friendly. It even had a life in print: when the Guardian published the interactive, Kiln produced a super-high-resolution snapshot of the map for the newspaper’s newspaper’s centre spread – an interesting example of a live web technology flowing back into a print product in a way that enhanced the newspaper offering while simultaneously raising awareness of the online version.

The project has been viewed more than three-quarters of a million times since its launch in January.