Behind the Scenes of an Airport Runway

Monday, July 2, 2012 By: admin

A lot of work goes into every safe takeoff and landing on an airport’s runway. The personnel, the technology, and the pilots have to work in unison just to get the airplanes pointed in the right direction. With all the different markings, lighting, and controllers, many different elements contribute to getting a plane where it’s supposed to go.

Just looking out over the airport you will see taxi runways, vehicle roadways, checkpoints, non-movement areas, and more surrounding the main runway. The air traffic controllers determine which runways are used for takeoffs and landings, ground controllers direct the traffic from the tower, and other personnel help taxi the airplanes where they need to go. In order to cope with all this input, the runways have an intricate system of markings and lights to help get these planes off the ground.

What Do Runway Markings Tell Pilots?

Runways are laid out based on the area’s prevailing winds, since that can have such a big effect on takeoffs and landings. Each runway is numbered in reference to magnetic north, which may then have a letter added to it if the airport has multiple runways facing the same direction.

Beyond these numbered runways are the taxiways that are marked with a continuous yellow centerline, vehicle roadway markings (where vehicles cross areas that are used by aircrafts), non-movement area boundary markings, and receiver checkpoint markings.

Follow the Signs

The more complex the airport runway system the more sings and lighting systems are needed to navigate the veritable labyrinth. There are a few basic types of signs that provide most of the information the pilots need. This includes:

  • Mandatory instructions – These are seen at the entrance to the runways and prohibited areas, and they’re usually a bright red to make sure they’re seen.
  • Location signs – Where you are.
  • Direction signs – Where you’re going.
  • Destination signs – How to get there.
  • Information signs – Important data on the area.
  • Runway distance remaining – Usually listed in thousands of feet left until the runway.
  • Airport barricades – although these are not signs they should be treated as such. Each airport barricade is used with the intention of warning and safety for both workers and civilians.

Lighting Systems

Visibility is critical on any runway system, especially during the night or when adverse weather conditions roll in. Lighting systems have to be reliable and clear to guide the pilots to the right runway and make sure they stop in time. The approach light systems (ALS), glide path indicators, and runway lighting each play a part in providing safety and guidance.

Who’s in Charge?

There are a lot of people working to make sure that an airport runway is working efficiently. The ground crew helps guide the plane from one place to the next, operations specialists compile and monitor flight schedules and manage the security programs. FAA regulations have to be met, and someone has to coordinate all these people.

Air traffic controllers, ground controllers, and other personnel each play a part in directing the airplanes, making sure the lights are working properly, and that any incursions on the runway are quickly removed. In the end, it’s all a matter of bringing together the right people and the right equipment to do the job that will keep everyone safe.

Written by Nick Morales.

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