Live Tracking a Flight’s Location on a GPS Map and How it Works

Almost all airlines send you real time flight status alerts on your smartphone or email, especially when your flight is delayed or rescheduled. Most of them also have their own dedicated apps which can track your flight, based on the flight information you feed in the app.

However, all this information is limited to the flight which you are about to board or flying. If you want to track any random airplane, say a plane flying overhead then you would need a flight tracking app or website. 

A flight tracking website provides real time flight location on a GPS map and updates it almost every second. You can track any commercial flight right from takeoff at the origin to landing at the destination airport. 

These apps also provide you with other important details like the cruising altitude or how high the airplane is flying, information about the make of the aircraft, current air and ground speed, origin and destination airports and whether it’s a cargo or passenger airplane.

How do Flight tracking Apps & websites work?

The flight information about any commercial airline has to be shared in real time with the nearest Airport’s Air Traffic Control Towers, that use this information to monitor the location and altitude of an aircraft. This information is very useful and critical in guiding the aircrafts and preventing mid air collisions. Apart from using the information sent by the flight, ATC’s also use their own ground based RADARs to track the location and altitude of an airplane.

However, Flight Tracking Websites do not communicate either with the ATC or the plane in flight. Instead, they use information collected by a receiver called Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast or ADS-B receiver.

ADS-B is a relatively modern technology where an ADS-B transponder is present on the flight. This ADS-B system present on the aircraft uses an onboard GPS to calculate the current location of the flight and then broadcasts this information which can be picked up by ground based ADS-B receivers. At the moment 90 percent of commercial private airplanes have an ADS-B transponder onboard. 

A GPS receiver on an Airplane needs signals from at least three GPS satellites to calculate its actual location co-ordinates. This is shared with the nearest ATC and transmitted using the ADS-B transponder. This signal can be picked by independent ADS-B receiver or a satellite which is orbiting in the visible range of the aircraft.

Flight Tracking websites have their own ADS-B receivers installed near airports and busiest air routes around the world. In most countries, it’s perfectly legal to receive and listen to information broadcasted by the on-board ADS-B transponder on a commercial plane as long as you don’t use that information for nefarious purposes. 

The ADS-B transponders have a range of 300 – 400 KM as the curvature of the earth creates an obstruction for the signals. So, these Tracking Websites rely on multiple ADS-B receivers around the world to track the flight location.

The live flight transmits GPS data, flight identification, altitude, speed and other information at a rate of once per second. So, an ADS-B receiver on ground can receive this information from all the civilian aircrafts flying within its 200-300 km radius. The GPS data can be used to track the location of a flight on a digital map and keep updating it as soon as the flight enters within the range of another ADS-B receiver on the ground. That’s the way most of these flight tracking websites display information about a flight and its current location on a map.

Moreover, ADS-B is fast becoming the standard and is being adopted as the primary way of flight status tracking. Most Airbus and Boeing Aircrafts come preinstalled with an ADS-B transponder. Even some military aircrafts use this system to let other aircrafts know about their relative positions. 

Here we have given a list of some of the most popular Flight Tracking apps and websites. You can use any of them to get the real time location of any flight.


This is currently the most popular real time flight tracking Website. You can either visit the website or install its app which is available for both Android and iOS.

The app can turn your smartphone into a live plane tracker. In fact, it can even provide detailed information about a plane flying overhead. All you have to do is switch on your Phone’s location and point the app in the direction of the flying airplane.

They claim to have the world’s largest independent ADS-B receiver network in the world which tracks thousands of flights everyday. The smartphone app can also tag your photos with the GPS and Flight information if you click a photo of a flying airplane.

AirNav RadarBox

Radarbox provides real time live flight status and location on a digital map which is updated every second. It also allows you to listen to live Air Traffic Control Communication from airports around the world. 

Radarbox can be opened in your browser or you can install its app from the app store. Most of the features available on the app are also available on the website. 

Flight Aware

Flight aware also has a live tracking feature which allows you to track a flight by its flight number or you can also do a general search by Airport and it would list all the flights moving in and out of that airport.