Below is a fantastic picture of one of the three runways of the Brussels Airport:
If you look closely at the runway, you will notice ‘25R’ written on it. Incidentally, it is known as Runway 25R. I don’t need to be a psychic to guess the question which brings you here – how are runways numbered? What makes these numbers unique?
Read on to find out!
Runways are numbered on the basis of the angle the runway makes in reference to the magnetic north pole, also known as the magnetic heading.
As we all know, Earth has a magnetic field around it. Similar to a magnet, Earth’s magnetic field too has magnetic poles (see below).
Now imagine a line drawn from the magnetic north pole to the centre of an airport runway. This line will make an opening angle with the runway, considering it as a line segment. This angle is known as the magnetic heading of the runway. Runway numbers are nothing but magnetic heading divided by 10 and rounded off to the nearest integer.
In the picture below, the red strip is a runway. If we draw a straight line from the magnetic north (the yellow line in this picture), it will make an angle with the runway, ‘Angle x’ in this case. Thus, the number you will see on the Runway End A will be x divided by 10 and rounded off to the nearest integer. If ‘Angle x’ is 70 degrees, Runway End A would be marked 07.
What about Runway End B? Though it is the other end of the same runway, it is considered a different one for all purposes. The magnetic heading of this end of the runway will be x + 180 degrees. If ‘Angle x’ is 70 degrees, as in our example, End B should be marked 25 (Can you deduce why?).
Taking the example forward, can you use the compass below to find which direction runway 07 will be pointing towards? What about runway 25?
What about the R in 25R?
R simply refers to Right!
Airports, at times, have parallel runways. Suffixes L, C and R – standing for Left, Centre and Right – is a terminology used to differentiate them.
If there are more than 3 parallel runways (in rare cases; Los Angeles International Airport, or LAX, is a great example), airports give a slightly different number to some runways. For example LAX has four parallel runways which they name as 24L, 24R, 25L and 25R.
Check out this awesome LAX Airport Diagram! I am sure it will be a great learning.
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