Measure Distance In Air: 9 Facts(Read This First!)

The word “Air distance” might be familiar as it locates two places on the map. Therefore, let us quickly look into what made it necessary to measure.

When one is traveling through the air, it is necessary to measure distance in air as it is very useful for the aviation sector. The unit is frequently used to calculate distances in space, and the air is the nautical mile.

Seeing the vital importance measuring of air distance, let us focus on what aerial distance is, how to measure distance in air, and many more questions in this article.

What is aerial distance?

Aerial distance plays a key role in geographical mapping. Let us see what the actual aerial distance is.

Aerial distance is the distance between two points or places that is measured through air instead of the ground or road which is the path covered by the airplanes to reach from one place to the other place.

When is distance measured in air?

It is not always possible to measure distance physically. Let us look at situations when we need to measure distance in air.

“Air distance” is taken into account when you wanted to measure the shortest distance between two cities, to measure the distance covered by airplane or helicopter, to measure the rocket’s flight path within atmospheric range.

What is the difference between air distance and road distance?

Air distance and road distance are not the same; they are different. Let us see how air distance and road distance differ from one another.

Road DistanceAir distance
The road distance is the measurement of a distance that we make in our daily lives by using the measurement of the ground or the road.While measuring air distance, we do not utilize ground measurements; rather, we measure the distance through the air.  
In general, mile and km units are used to measure distance on roads.While nautical miles are used to measure distance in the air.
The distance a vehicle travels is called the road distance.Whereas the distance a crow flies from one spot to another is called the air distance.  
Difference between air distance and road distance

Is the air distance always less than the road distance?

The road distance is the one which is measured across the land surface. So let us see whether the air distance is less than that of the road distance or not.

The air distance is always less than the road distance because if you go from one place to another by road, you must go through curvy paths. While on the same path, if you are going through the air, your path will be almost straight. This straight line is considered the shortest path or geodesic.

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In the figure, assume you want to travel from point A to point B. You must now follow the paths AO and OB on the ground. However, flying allows you to travel straight from point A to point B. So, the journey taken in the air is obviously shorter than a path taken by a road, according to Pythagoras’s theorem.

What are the ways to measure distance in air?

Several tools and platforms are necessary to measure distance in the air. Let us have a look at the ways given below:

  • Geographical Indication Software:The popular and handy mapping platform, Google Maps and Google Earth allows you to measure air distance.
  • The great circle distance formula: For 2 points p&Q on our Earth,the shortest distance between these places is a straight line that travels through the sphere.
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Image Credits: CheCheDaWaff, Illustration of great-circle distance, CC BY-SA 4.0

The following is the great circle formula for calculating air distance:

d = rcos-1[cos a cos b cos(x-y) + sin a sin b]


d : Distance between two points

r : Radius of the sphere (here earth)

a & b : Latitude

x & y : Longitude 

Is the distance measured in space the same as in the air?

Space is defined as the absence of any media, including air. So let us check to see if the distance measured in space and air are equivalent or not.

The distance in space is even greater than the distance in air miles. Since there is a vacuum, there is no air. We cannot utilize the method of estimating air distance while thinking about distance in space. Thus, it uses large units like astronomical units and light years.

Problem: Find the air distance (shortest distance) between California and Texas.

California: 36.7783° N 119.4179° W

Texas: 31.9686° N 99.9018° W


a = 36.7783° N 

b = 31.9686° N

x = 119.4179° W

y = 99.9018° W

r = 6378 km (Radius of the earth)


d = rcos-1[cos a cos b cos(x-y) + sin a sin b]

d = 6378 × cos-1[0.8× 0.8483 × 0.9425 + 0.5487 × 0.5294]

d = 6378 × cos-1[0.9556]

d = 1887 km = 1018.8 Nautical miles

 The road distance or the driving distance between two states is 1405.9 miles, while the shortest distance or the air distance is 1018.8 Nautical miles (1171 miles).


We can conclude from this article that distances traveled by road and by air are not equal. Furthermore, the distance traveled by air is never as great as the distance traveled by road. The unit used to measure air distance is the nautical mile, sometimes known as the air mile.

Read about Measure Distance In Water.

Read more about Is Distance Continuous Or Discrete?

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