I am trying to retrieve information on the total area constantly covered by commercial passenger airplanes in flight (that is, airborne planes, not planes on the ground).

To this end, I've been trying to obtain formal/documented information (preferably from a source like the FAA) on the major types of commercial passenger planes, the total planar cross-sectional area (planform area) of each type of plane (as viewed from the top of the plane), and the average number of each plane type that is airborne at any time. I am looking for data similar to those shown here, which was in an article I've been reading. That data is from 2006, and I am looking for data which is recent (i.e. preferably within the last couple of years). Number of passengers and height of the aircraft is not important for me.

I've been searching on the FAA website, but I can't locate anything relevant. Don't know if it is just me, but I find it hard to easily search for information there. I welcome guidance on how to calculate said area based on freely-available data.

  • $\begingroup$ The FAA would have no reason to care about, calculate, or publish the average number of airplanes airborne worldwide so I don’t think you will find the information you seek there. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 4:55
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW the correct term for the area covered by an aircraft as viewed from above is "plan section". ("Cross section" would be as viewed from the front or rear.) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 5:11
  • $\begingroup$ @FreeMan: A use case is space debris risk on airborne planes // @ inquiries: Please indicate in your question (press edit) if you're fine with guidance on how to calculate said area [based on freely available manufacturer data] – most papers I've seen do their own calculations for such things. $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ @ymb1 Indeed, this is precisely the reason I am asking this question. I am trying to quantify the risk of the meteoroid and orbital debris environment on airborne aircraft (not aircraft on the ground). $\endgroup$
    – inquiries
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ Degree of Difficulty - I doubt much "space junk" comes in straight down. So you'd have to factor in reentry angle compared to whatever sq meter the aircraft body is consuming. $\endgroup$
    – WPNSGuy
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 15:59

1 Answer 1


Most papers I've seen do their own calculations, and since that's acceptable to you, I can think of two ways:

1. Crude

a. Fuselage dimensions from Jane's (usually cited on Wikipedia) or similar are reliable enough to create a fuselage rectangle, to which you add the wing area* (same source).

* Even though each manufacturer has its own definition of that; see: How is wing area defined?

b. Use the dimensions in the free airport planning manuals, e.g.:

2. CAD drawings

Use the manufacturer's own free CAD drawings, e.g.:

You don't necessarily need AutoCAD as there are open-source/free CAD programs – the area command or similar to be used to calculate the area of the top view.

For the airborne planes, your source won't be the FAA, but rather the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). However, most of the world does not provide the same level of statistics for free, so extrapolation (possibly while taking into account the time zones) will be needed.

  • $\begingroup$ OK. This is less clear to me than the previous question you assisted me with. I also have no knowledge of the aviation field, for my educational background is in astronomy. It seems that both options (Jane's and CAD software) require payment of some kind (in the first to obtain the publication, in the second to obtain the software). I asked a librarian of the BTS for guidance, but she said she could not help and pointed me toward the FAA. And, the FAA said they could not help. As a last resort, I may just have to take the data from 2006 and project to 2022. $\endgroup$
    – inquiries
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ @inquiries: I added a free dimensions source. We can look into BTS in its own Q&A. $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ Are there similar freely-available planform area dimensions for Boeing jetliners? $\endgroup$
    – inquiries
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ @inquiries: Yes. For other manufacturers, just use the term "airport planning manual" when searching. I added the Boeing link. $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Commented Mar 17, 2022 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ I am following your advice and trying to get the planform area from the CAD files. I downloaded FreeCAD (freecadweb.org). I'm finding the software very challenging to obtain what I need. Do you have experience with FreeCAD? $\endgroup$
    – inquiries
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 20:03

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