Planespotting: A Guide to Tracking Aircraft Around the World

Tracking aircraft is an increasingly valuable tool in the arsenal of investigators. Aided by new tracking technologies, journalists have:

Virtually observed a Russian oligarch’s jet making suspicious trips to the Middle East and Africa;
questioned the use of private planes — by Hungary’s president, among others;

If you just need a few quick tips, check out GIJN’s planespotting tipsheet. exposed rendition flights by the Turkish government;
followed the travels of government officials;
learned about military operations;
watched the movements of corporate executives;
analyzed aircraft accidents; and more. Recent years have been golden ones for reporters tracking airplanes. In this GIJN resource you’ll find:

• The basics: How tracking works and why one new disruptive technology is democratizing the information.

Tipsheet: How to Track Airplanes

বাংলা | Русский

All aircraft have unique markings that sometimes can be used to track their flights and identify their owners. Investigative journalists are using this information to uncover corruption, learn about surveillance flights, discover rendition operations and more. This tip sheet is a short summary of a longer description of how to track planes that you can find here. 

Tracking is being enhanced by a new tracking system, ADS-B, which stands for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, that is being adopted worldwide. Not only does it provide greater accuracy, but it circumvents US rules that had allowed jets to fly without being tracked. Tracking planes globally is facilitated by commercial and nonprofit organizations that assemble vast amounts of flight data from government and private sources.