Airport Runways: An Overview.

So you’ve boarded an aircraft, strapped yourself in, and the crew announces to the pilot saying “Cabin crew ready for takeoff”. The plane then starts moving slowly for a while. The momentum pushes you into your seat and suddenly you find yourself in the air looking down on the airport below.

Lets see what exactly happens here: When the plane starts to move it follows ATC’s commands to taxi to the runway, navigating through the airport’s taxiways and finally reaching the runway.

Sometimes the plane stops for a bit to wait for takeoff clearance and other times it directly continues to accelerate towards the end of the runway for take off. In this article we’ll discuss what is a runway and give you some brief general information on its function.

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According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a runway is a “defined rectangular area on a land aerodrome prepared for the landing and takeoff of aircraft”. Runways may be a man-made surface (often asphalt, concrete, or a mixture of both) or a natural surface (grass, dirt, gravel, ice, sand or salt). Runways, as well as taxiways and ramps, are sometimes referred to as “tarmac,” though very few runways are built using tarmac. Runway lengths are now commonly given in meters worldwide, except in North America where feet are commonly used.

Many layers of asphalt and concrete are used in most commercial airports and military ones to construct the runways, as they need to be strong enough and resilient enough to handle the heavy weight of the aircraft landing and departing from it, they often have underground reinforcements as well.

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A typical civilian airport has 1-2 runways, hubs on the other hand like DXB, LHR and CAI for instance may have up to 4 runways supporting take off and landings.

If you ever see runway specifications for a certain airport you’ll find some key characteristics defining it as follows :

  1. Length (in meters)
  2. Surface type (Asphalt , Dirt , etc)
  3. Runway number

Each runway has two sets of heading numbers, they allow the pilot to correctly navigate to the runway and land in the proper direction of the traffic flow. For example, here at Cairo international we have 3 runways (Left , Right and Center) and on each end there are twi digits, for the center runway we have 05 and 23 meaning 50 and 230 degrees respective to the magnetic north of earth.

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Runways also have many sets of lights including center lights, papi lights, taxi to runway guides and many others. Their goal is to simply guide the pilot in to a safe landing and out to a safe departure as well.

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