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Have you ever had a night flight when you can see the airport runway shining like a Christmas tree? Daytime flight landing may not look so much charming but you can see the airport processes in daylight. Why there are so many similarities in the airports around the world, no matter if they are large or small? Airport symbols, signs and runway numbers mean nothing at all but for the average passenger and at the same time, it is a secret language for pilots used to safely operate the aircraft through the airport directed towards all the different runways. Consistent airport runway numbering in airports gives pilots from all nationalities the same recognition when landing and taking off in any airport in the world.
The giant numbers painted on the airport runways mean its name and is called heading. The numbers are 9 meters high and 3 meters wide. Can you imagine that a two-bedroom apartment in New York City is the same square footage as the runway heading? The runway heading consists of two numbers between 1 and 36. This means the heading is based on the compass directions with 360 representing north, 90 – east, 180 – south, and 270 – west. Here it comes some work for math lovers. The numbers are rounded to the nearest ten to make it easier. The last digit is dropped and each individual digit is pronounced. For example, a compass heading of 210 degrees would be written 21 and would be pronounced as two one. One more interesting thing, if the number is one digit, 0 (zero) is written in front of it to make it two-digit. Every runway has two ends. Each end is considered as a different runway even though it is the same actual runway surface. This is why the most runways have two numbers. The numbers at the opposite ends of the runway are 180° different from each other.
Moreover, aircraft can use one or the other direction to take off or land to get the advantage of the prevailing winds. The next time you have a flight, no matter if you’re seated in business, economy class or stuck in the very last seats at the end of the plane, look through the window at those giant numbers on the runway to make sure which direction you will be taking off.
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