The Runway’s flight of fancy


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In mid-air flying over Antigua in April 2017, on my way to Jamaica. Little did I know then that this image would be used today for an article on aviation. PHOTO: Phillip J. Matheson

Runways make an interesting study. For me, they represented such strength as they have to withstand the weight and speed of massive air crafts, daily in most cases.
So, as anyone who ever flew on an airplane should guess, airports and the carrier ships leave nothing to chance.

And, as if by chance, recently, I came across a video on Facebook about a week ago that explained the numbers and other markings that would be seen on the runways at airports.

The details that I discovered about bearings also reminded me about my mathematics classes on bearings…I could now find relevance to them.

The International Civil Aviation Organization States that a runway is a defined rectangular area on a land aerodrome prepared for the landing and takeoff of air crafts.
Runways can be either man-made surface or natural. The man-made surface may consist of concrete or asphalt or a mixture of both, while the natural surface may be of grass, dirt, gravel, ice or salt.

The most fascinating bit about runways though is the markings that appear on them.
It’s those markings that determine their names. And it’s their names that ensure the safety of passengers in general when we arrive or depart our flights whether we take a business trip or a vacation.

For most people, such things may mean very little or nothing at all, but, for the pilots, and the other technical staff at the airport, an understanding of the systems involved is what creates impact to the beginning, or the end of a trip.

Allow me to illustrate using a simple example below.

Runways are named by a number between 01 and 36, which is normally the direction of the magnetic compass, usually heading in which the runway faces. It’s usually rounded to the nearest ten, with the ending zero dropped.

So a runway aligned along the 028 degrees magnetic bearing, will be known as “runway 03/21”. (Bearing 210 being the opposite direction to 030).
Aircraft take off and land best facing into the wind, so depending on the wind, the runway in use will be either “runway 03”, or “runway 21”, named for the direction in which the nose of the aircraft will be facing.

The numbers that appear on the surface of the runway is only one of the many layers of symbols that you see there.
For larger airports one will see the letters “L, C and R” and that’s because there are parallel paths.

There also exist a number of threshold markings, otherwise known as piano keys. They all have their functions.

What’s significant about all of these is their role played in maintaining levels of safety that’s humanly possible for captain, crew and passengers each time we fly.

So the next time you ride that aircraft don’t just notice those numbers or piano keys, but appreciate them for the role that they play in taking you to your destination.

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