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Runways

Updated on April 7, 2016

What is a runway

The runway is defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization, hereafter ICAO, as:

...a defined rectangular area on a land aerodrome prepared for the landing and take-off of aircraft... (ICAO Annex 14 - Aerodromes, Volume 1, Aerodrome Design and Operations).

This article will cover aspects of airport runways from dimensions, pavement preparation, runway lighting to the obstacles around runways.

The runway is included in a runway strip. The runway strip, which contains the runway, is a defined area that protects the aircraft from damage if it it runs off the runway or is flying over the runway strip.

Runway geometrical dimensions

The crucial dimensions of a runway are the length and width and these depends on the type of aircraft that the airport intends to serve.

The runway length also depends on the altitude, the average temperature and the runway slope.

ICAO has a system of classifying runways that airport operators and airlines use for evaluating runway dimensions. The Aerodrome Reference Code is a two element system that is used to standardize runway length and width.

Table 1 below describes how the two element code is enterpreted.


Airport runway

This is a runway - take note of the runway strip
This is a runway - take note of the runway strip

Runway Strip

The runway is contained within a runway strip.

ICAO defines the runway strip as:

"a defined area including the runway and stopway, if provided..."

Table 1 - ICAO Aerodrome Reference Code

Code number
Aeroplane refrence field length (RFL)
Code Letter
Wing span (WS)
Outer main gear wheel span (OMG)
1
RFL less than 800 m
A
WS less than 15 m
OMG less than 4.5 m
2
800 m less or equal to RFL less than 1200 m
B
15 m less or equal to WS less than 24 m
4.5 m less or equal to OMG less than 6 m
3
1200 m less or equal to RFL less than 1800 m
C
24 m less or equal to WS less than 36 m
4.5 m less or equal to OMG less than 9 m
4
1800 m less or equal to RFL
D
36 m less or equal to WS less than 52 m
9 m less or equal to OMG less than 14 m
 
 
E
52 m less or equal to WS less than 65 m
9 m less or equal to OMG less than 14 m
 
 
F
65 m less or equal to WS less than 80 m
14 m less or equal to OMG less than 16 m

Multiple runways

How many runways must an airport have?

At least one runway is the only correct answer to this difficult question.

The number of runways depends on the traffic and also on the wind pattern. A runway has an hourly capacity that ranges from 30 operations per hour to just less than 60 operations per hour depending on how it is operated.

Global air traffic continues to grow. Most airports start with one runway and in time add second runways as traffic grows.

Gatwick International is technically a single runway airport. Dubai International is a two runway airport.

Heathrow International is a two runway system and as of July 2015 the UK has reported plans for the third runway.

In Dubai, there is a new airport planned for five runways. Al Maktoum International was originally planned for six parallel runways and this was reduced to five. Dubai has is located at a strategic location between Europe, Asia, Africa and South Pacific.

The number of runways depends on a number of factors chief of which are traffic pattern and annual volume, operational mode, acceptable delay, aircraft mix and climate of the airport. In trail separation minimums and the navigational aids are also factors to be considered.

As a guideline a single runway can accommodate around 45 commercial operations per hour in VFR and 30 operations in IFR.

Acronym
Meaning
 
ICAO
International Civil Aviation Organization
A UN technical agency responsible for international cooperation in aviation
IFR
Instrument Flight Rules
ATC procedures under which aircraft operate in accordance with signals transmitted between on-board avionics and ground based or satellite based navaids
VFR
Visual Flight Rules
 
IMC
Instrument Meteorological Conditions
 
VMC
Visual Meteorological Conditions
 
FAA
Federal Aviation Authority
A United States agency responsible for regulating civil aviation
ATC
Air Traffic Control
 

Runways

I am also informed that the happy holiday maker is on a runway - forget about that.
I am also informed that the happy holiday maker is on a runway - forget about that.

Runways

Catwalks are also called runways.

Airbus A380 taking-off demo

Runway Orientation

Runway orientation primarily depends on prevailing wind direction.

Aircraft operate into the wind.

The local wind pattern is usually presented in the form of a windrose which shows the wind direction and speed. The runway must be aligned with the wind direction and maximum crosswind must not exceed ICAO limits.

If the crosswind exceeds ICAO limits then a crosswind runway should be considered. Usually the crosswind runway is shorter.

Runways

This is what we intend to talk about. Although you don't quite see the runway, but that aircraft is about to land on one.
This is what we intend to talk about. Although you don't quite see the runway, but that aircraft is about to land on one.

Runway Length

A runway must be long enough to allow safe landings and take-offs. And not too long for economic reasons.

Get the runway too short and it becomes not only unsafe but also uneconomic because the airport loses airlines. A runway that is too long is uneconomic because it grabs land, cost a lot to construct and to maintain.

For take-offs the runway must be long enough for the critical aircraft on maximum take-off weight, on the hottest day to execute a take-off with one engine failure.

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