How to Decipher Two-Digit Airport Runway Designations

MWSS 374 Marines refurbish Camp Wilson airfield
Painting numbers on the approach section of the Strategic Expeditionary Landing Field at Camp Wilson by Pfc. Julio McGraw


17 July 2017 | | 99% Invisible

“Runways feature a lot of design details, but one in particular is both easy to miss (as you fly right over it) yet also hard to decode: their unique numbers. Public and military airfields alike feature numeric designations at either end of each runway, but what do they mean?

“All runways are numbered based on the magnetic azimuth (compass bearing) in which a runway is oriented,” explains Dave Dargie, Aviation Infrastructure Sector Lead at Stantec. But that seems strange at first glance, since the numbers are too short to represent 360 degrees.

Runway number corresponding to compass bearing (CC BY-SA 3.0)


The solution is to drop a digit, rounding the compass bearing by ten degrees so you end up with a range from 1 to 36. By extension, the opposite end of any given runway (180 degrees away) will be plus or minus 18 (e.g. 08 in one direction and 26 in the other).

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