Beginner Information

Written by dan330 - Profile PM e-mail
This article was added on Fri 21st August, 2009

This article is designed to give some basic aviation information to those who are new to plane spotting or viewing aircraft. If you are not new to aviation then you may well find the information too basic and this article will not be for you. I have had numerous e-mails about the subject below so I believe at least a few people will find it of use.
Why do we describe 4 different runways at Manchester Airport when there are in fact only 2? Why do aircraft sometimes land in one direction and at other times land in other directions?

If you would like to see other questions like these answered then please send me you question and I'll add it to this article.

How Are Runways Named?

Enthusiasts and aviation professionals talk about different runways using numbers, sometimes with a letter on the end, our airport guides being a classic case in point that will have those outside aviation totally confused. We also talk about 4 different runways at places like Manchester (below) when pysically you may know that there are only 2, thereby enhancing the confusion.

Posted Photo

Manchester Airport shown above does only have 2 runways as you can see from the map. To pilots though there are 4. It is crucially important that all pilots know not just which runway they are supposed to be using but also in which direction they are supposed to be landing or departing. Any confusion could be fatal. For this reason each side of each runway is given a name, so with one simple call "Cleared for take-off runway 23 left" a pilot knows not just which runway to use but also the direction to be heading.

Runway Names
The runway designations themselves are not just random and do have a meaning of their own. The designations always consist of two numbers and sometimes include a letter at the end.
The numbers given to a runway are based on the direction of that runway with regard to the magnetic compass. A runway on an east - west heading of 090° - 270° will be designated 09 (moving towards the east) and 27 (moving towards the west). A runway running north to south will have the designations 18/36 and so on.
The letter is required if there is more than one parallel runway, with the letters being either L (left), R (right) or C (center when theres 3 runways).

What Decides Which Direction Aircraft Land and Depart?

Very simply the answer to this one is the wind. Aircraft get far better performance for both take-off and landing by flying into the wind. The one exception to this rule maybe that certain airports have a preferred runway direction which will be used up to a small tail wind component. Manchester Airport for example will use the preferred runways 23L/R up to a 5 knot (about 6 mph) tail wind, but anything greater and runways 05L/R will be used.

The weather on this website uses up to date wind information for over 300 airports along with a database of runway directions for these airports to give an accurate value for which runways will be in use right now.
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