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Question: I live in Wilmington, N.C., and there is a busy stream of flights overhead traveling north and south, usually from the Northeast and Europe to Florida. I use Flightradar24 to identify the flights and destinations. The planes usually fly in a very narrow corridor right behind one another. Sometimes this is 50-100 miles offshore, sometimes it is 50-100 miles inland, sometimes it is right over me. What determines this? It doesn’t seem have anything to do with weather systems.   

— Mike Kennedy, Wilmington, N.C.

Answer: There are airways along the area you reference. Additionally, there are military warning areas. If the military is using certain airspace, civilian airplanes have to avoid it.

Depending on the day and weather conditions, controllers will assign specific airways for the Northeast-to-Florida traffic. This would account for what you are seeing.

Q: I live in the Indianapolis area, and on some days you can see numerous contrails, and on other days there seems to be no flights at all. Why is this?

— Gregory Goodwin, Indianapolis

A: The flights are there but the atmospheric conditions to produce contrails are not. 

Q: How high are you above ground at the outer marker? We live in Gilbert, Ariz., and the planes turn for approach to Sky Harbor right above our house. At times they seem unusually low.

— John and Anne, Gilbert, Ariz.

A: The typical altitude crossing the Outer Marker or Final Approach Fix is 1,500 feet above the ground.

Q: I live around 120 miles from Washington, D.C. Judging by the sound, jets seem  to be slowing down as they fly above here. Is this what is happening at that distance from the airport?

— Steve Eckard, Harrisonburg, Va.

A: Air traffic control is beginning to sequence the airplanes for landing. Also, this is about the distance where the descent begins from normal cruise altitude. It can sound like the airplane is slowing when it is really descending.

Q: I live 5 miles north of Detroit Metro Airport and get a good look at all kinds of planes.  It appears that when the 747 flies over, it is flying much slower than the MD-80s do.  Is that an illusion?

— Robert Williamson, Westland, Mich.

A: It is an illusion due to the size difference. The 747 flies at about the same speed as other airliners.

Q: We live below a heavily traveled southerly route paralleling the Hudson River near Newburgh, N.Y. We assume it’s European traffic, and it seems to be too high for NYC landings. How can we find out some info on such a fascinating pastime?                

— Derry, Wappingers Falls, N.Y.

A: There are several flight-tracking websites that provide this information. The reader above cites Flightradar24, or you can do a search for “flight tracking” and you’ll find several options.

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Have a question about flying? Send it to travel@usatoday.com.

John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems.

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