There's A Reason For The Two Numbers That Are Found On Every Runway

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There's A Reason For The Two Numbers That Are Found On Every Runway

We're in June and the summer holiday period is just beginning. It should, on paper, be the time of year when staying in Britain to get a tan is feasible. It's not.

And to prove this point, here's Manchester's forecast for the next five days...

Credit: BBC Weather


Yes, there's not one ounce of convincing sunshine, so that means there is a legit reason to board a plane and get out to somewhere hot with guaranteed 30-plus temperatures.

Now, once you've cleared check-in, been searched at security, and waited around in the departure lounge you can get on the plane.

The problem here is that planes seem to take an age to reverse, taxi and then take-off.

During that time you have the luxury of staring at the tarmac, or the grey-glass buildings that form the airport terminal.


You may have noticed whilst doing so, that there are numbers sprayed onto the runway. And you've probably worked out that they are more relevant for the pilots than they are to you.

But what do they mean?

Credit: Ronnie Robinson


Well, it's all to do with the direction in which the plane is facing, and which direction the pilots should take-off and land at. Scouts, go and get your compasses, it's time for a lesson.

So, each compass is 360 degrees round, right? Super, north at zero, east at 90 degrees, south is 180, and west is 270. Wonderful.

So each number on the runway matches a compass direction. The first number uses the actual compass bearing and is rounded to the nearest ten degrees (for example: 15 degrees, is rounded to 20; 286 degrees is rounded to 290).


Credit: PA

The last number is always dropped, with the number at the other end of the runway being the opposite on a compass. The difference between the two numbers is always 18 (180 degrees with the last number dropped of course).

For larger airports, which have more than one runway running parallel - the solution to this is simple. For this the letters L, C and R are placed after the number. Zero points for guessing why.

Yep, left, centre and right.


Credit: PA

However, there's a little added twist. The earth's magnetic field changes 'magnetic north' from time to time, and this can affect the reading on a compass.

To get over this, every five years, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) checks that the numbers are still applicable.

And there you have it. Next time you're sat on the runway, bored, or anxious for take-off, you now know what those numbers mean.

Now, someone fetch me that geek emoji.

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: Airport, Airplane, Aeroplane

Michael Minay

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