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Home > Flying the Plane > How does a pilot find a runway in an airport?
How does a pilot find a runway in an airport?
Flying - Flying the Plane
Sunday, 09 September 2012 13:13

Sunrise Singapore A380 Landing Heathrow
 
Hi Captain,
  
I really appreciate this site. It's giving me a lot of information.

I have a question though. I always wondered how a pilot finds the runway in an airport.

Andy

Hi Andy,

Airline pilots have been reported to have mistakenly landed on wrong runways on a different airport but it is rare. It happens only because the pilots mistook either a parallel runway or one in another airport nearby and they were not making use of the proper navigational aids.

However with modern navigational aids, it is unlikely to happen because the computer on the plane is so reliable that it would direct the plane to the correct runway if it is properly selected. It is quite similar to the GPS used in the car. Type in the destination and select direction - it will take you where you want to go!

For instance if I want to get into London Heathrow airport from Kuala Lumpur, and let say, the weather report on arrival is foggy - visibility only 100 meters and cloud base is at roof top level where a car driver would have difficulty navigating. Well, I would have no problem locating the correct runway at the airport even if I were 6000 miles away as long the runway is selected on the flight management computer (FMC) prior to departure.

On arrival, the computer will lead me onto the runway even if I cannot see it until very close to the roof top if my autopilot was engaged.

In the past, a pilot can locate a runway via radio aids. Every runway has at least a navigational aid and if the correct radio frequency is tuned and selected on, the plane will fly towards the beacon and find the runway at the airport. Today, they are mostly obsolete since they are not very accurate as they suffer from errors.

If requested, the ATC (air traffic control), can also direct the plane to the runway on radar - a more reliable means of positioning the plane for a landing.

If the weather is good, then the pilot has no problem landing as the pilot can see the runway. What is most difficult is when the weather is foggy. In this case, there is the ILS or Instrument Landing System to assist the pilot. If the pilot is trained and certified to conduct auto-land, landing in very low visibility is not a problem at all.

So finding the runway in any airport is not an issue to any pilot today as long as there is a navigational aid to home on to, radar services are available and the on-board navigational computer is working fine.

PS. To check for any latest updates or postings, you can follow my new Twitter at @CaptKHLim


Autoland on Runway 23R Manchester Airport

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