Why Don’t Planes Fly in a Straight Line?

If there is one thing that flight dispatchers need to understand, it is the flight plan of an airplane. It may come as a surprise to many that airplanes do not necessarily fly in a straight line. Whether you have noticed this yourself while looking at a flight chart on your latest flight or have learned this through anecdotal means, you may be wondering what the reasons for nonlinear flights are. As one of the top aircraft dispatching schools, Sheffield School of Aeronautics has years of experience dealing with flight plans and all of their applications. So, why don’t planes fly in a straight line? Our experts take a closer look at the topic in the following article. Continue reading below to learn more from our airline dispatcher school. 

Why Can’t Planes Fly in a Straight Line? 

You may be wondering why airplanes do not fly in a straight line if it is the shortest path between two points. When you are looking at a flat map, it may seem like airplanes need to fly in straight lines to get to their destination in the shortest and most effective ways. However, these maps do not account for the curvature of the earth, which would make it impossible for airplanes to fly to their destinations in a completely straight line. Instead, planes need to fly in an arc.

To better visualize this concept, our flight dispatcher school would like to point out that it would be difficult to draw from one point to another on a globe. If you took a pencil and attempted to draw a line from Fort Lauderdale to Paris, it would naturally form into an arc. 

Why Do Planes Fly in an Arc? 

Flight plans need to account for the curvature of the earth when they are created. Since the earth is three-dimensional, it would be impossible not to fly in an arc. Another reason that planes would choose to fly in a trajectory that resembles an arc is to account for the amount of traffic that will be in the air. Like highway systems, air space experiences a great deal of traffic. If every flight took the same trajectory, the traffic would be harder to manage. Another reason why planes fly in an arc is that since it is impossible to fly in a straight line on an airplane, an arc is actually the shortest distance between two points. 

Why Don’t Planes Fly Over parts of the Pacific? 

Another interesting fact about airplane trajectories is that, aside from ETOPs authorizations, flight plans occasionally avoid flying directly over the Pacific. Why? The reason that airplanes do not fly over parts of the Pacific Ocean is the fact that the Pacific is a massive body of water. It is nearly impossible for planes to fly effectively, even if these planes choose to fly in an arc. Another reason that airplanes choose to take curved routes instead of flying over the Pacific is that they are safer and more fuel efficient than a straight line. By taking a curved route that covers more land than a straight line, there will be more opportunities for emergency landings should there be a need for one.

More About Sheffield School of Aeronautics

Why don’t planes fly in a straight line? The answer lies in the curvature of the earth and the physics behind air travel. Sheffield School of Aeronautics is an airline dispatcher school that is dedicated to ensuring that our students understand what it takes to become successful aircraft dispatchers or members of the aviation industry. Contact us today to learn more about international flight planning and becoming an FAA dispatcher through our flight dispatcher courses.  

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