The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 -- three months after it vanished from radar screens, another possible eyewitness has surfaced, but there are no solid leads -- has turned real-time flight tracking from a niche hobbyist interest to a global activity. Flight-tracking apps have seen a huge spike in downloads in the wake of the the events surrounding the Boeing 777's disappearance.
FlightRadar24 was among the flight-tracking apps that saw that spike. Boasting 3 million total downloads across iOS and Android, it currently sits comfortably as one of the top paid travel apps in both mobile app stores. Prior to the disappearance of MH370, real-time flight tracking was primarily a hobby for aviation enthusiasts, or a professional necessity for frequent fliers and industry insiders. This quickly changed as the world’s attention turned to the Malaysian airliner, which went missing in the early hours of March 8. As a result, flight-tracking apps in Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS App Store saw a surge in downloads across the world as people grew more interested in keeping tabs on flights.
In the United States, sales of FlightRadar24 Pro surged, lifting it from an overall App Store rank of 162 to 52 as news broke of MH370's disappearance on March 8. China saw an even more dramatic spike as the app surged from an overall rank of 234 to the No. 10 spot in overall downloads, according to App Annie.
Real-time flight-tracking apps with similar functionality, such as FlightStats and FlightAware, also saw similar spikes in downloads, particularly in China and Malaysia. In China, FlightStats downloads surged on March 8, bringing the flight-tracking travel app up from rank 1,009 to 527. In Malaysia, FlightAware surged from a travel app rank of 212 on March 7 to the No. 9 travel app spot on March 8.
Of the several flight-tracking apps available on the iOS and Android, FlightRadar24 Pro has consistently remained at the top of the App Store rankings charts for travel apps since the disappearance.
“Yes, sales of the Pro app and downloads of the Free app increased drastically after the tragic disappearance of MH370,” FlightRadar24 CEO Fredrik Lindahl said in an email. He declined to say exactly how much sales and downloads of FlightRadar24 surged following the events of MH370.
Even as the search for Flight MH370 went below the surface of the Indian Ocean, flight-tracking apps continue to hold the attention of users.
FlightRadar24 declined to give more specific information on sales data between March 8 and the present, though it has held the No. 1 spot for paid App Store apps in 75 countries, according to Lindahl.
In addition to flight-tracking app interest, there's been a rise in interest in installing antenna receiver equipment, which is used by FlightRadar24 to track flights overhead. FlightRadar24 offers these receivers for free, but limits their distribution to areas where they believe they’re most needed.
“We get about 50 to 100 applications per day, and we send out about 40 units per week,” said Lindahl. “The number of applications did increase after MH370 disappeared.”
As of June 4, a number of apps such as FlightRadar24 Pro continue to rank in the top 25 paid travel apps.