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Flightradar24 keeps watch on every flight

Recent notable events on Flightradar24 include the tracking of Alexei Navalny's aircraft as he returned to Moscow in 2021.

The recent seven-hour trip of Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi from Kuala Lumpur to Taipei broke viewership records on Flightradar24, one of the most popular flight tracking websites in the world.

After China issued military threats in the weeks before the visit and then started conducting live-fire drills after she left, the trip—which was cloaked in secret until the very last moment—attracted attention on a global scale.

Nancy Pelosi’s Boeing C-40C, with the callsign SPAR19, looped around the Philippines to avoid Chinese bases in the South China Sea, then soared across the Luzon Strait, reportedly under the watchful cover of a trio of US aircrews, according to Ian Petchenik, the head of communications for Flightradar24. At its peak, a record 708,000 people were simultaneously watching the little red icon representing the House speaker’s flight.

The website was compelled to impose access restrictions at various points because the volume of traffic made Flightradar24 “unstable for some users.” 3.0 million more viewers saw some of her flight in total than they did when it was broadcast on CNN at prime time.

Other notable recent events on Flightradar24 include the tracking of Alexei Navalny’s aircraft as he returned to Moscow in 2021 to face incarceration by almost 550,000 viewers.

Thousands more people followed a US air force Global Hawk that flew over the Black Sea after circumnavigating Ukraine during the Russian invasion. The site was also used by viewers to follow the haphazard US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Flight trackers rely on automated dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), a new open-standard surveillance technology that enables planes to broadcast their positions and other data to anybody with a receiver.

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