How runways are called on take off?

I previously asked about runway marking systems & I think I have it correct that: at least for landing aircraft the runway marked is in reference to the heading of the landing aircraft, i.e. an aircraft coming into runway 15-33L at KBWI would be cleared to land on runway 33L, if the aircraft is coming in from the south. Is this correct? If so, how are the runways referred to on take off? Is it also according to the direction the aircraft will be moving? I.E. an aircraft taking off to the south at BWI on runway 15-33L would be cleared to take off on runway 33L?
If my understanding is correct, is this standard nomenclature?

Always the direction the aircraft is heading. Also, L, R, or C is referred to as “left,” “right,” or “center,” respectively.

Remember runway numbers reflect headings. You got it backwards. 33L is heading North West.

Runway numbers remain the same no matter if it’s take off or landing. With that said, take off clearances would include runway number. I.E Sundowner 1943 cleared for take off 33L. I must read back the runway number / assignment to tower when accepting this clearance…

Now you may ask, what if I need to go south when taking off on 33L? If the winds are blowing from the north, I still use 33L per ATC instructions and ATC will vector (direct) me for my headings while in BWI airspace.


To put Allens’ comment simply, the runway heading is the compass heading without the last digit…

-Heading 070 = Runway 07
-Heading 180 = Runway 18
-Heading 270 = Runway 27
-Heading 268 = Runway 27… Ha, ha… Tricky!!
-Heading 360 = Runway 36 etc…

–The opposite direction on a runway will be the opposite heading so opposite number

heading 270 becomes 090, so Rwy 27 is 09 the other way…

Clear as mud?

Actually, not sure what others do, but I set my DG (Directional Gyro or heading indicator) to the runway heading when I line up for takeoff. (learned this diddy from the KLEX accident!)

Therefore, the runway number is my heading and I am cross checking that I am indeed on the right runway…

When you take off, and ATC asks you to fly runway heading, you wouldn’t fly 268 as in your example, but 270.

What you say is true for assigning numbers to runways, but not for flying a heading instruction by ATC.

Don’t get me wrong, 2 degrees is barely noticeable, just wanted to keep it clear that runway numbers match flight headings which would be rounded to the 10 degree headings. (I.E. 010, 020, 090, 140 and so on).

Note, headings are based on magnetic, not ground track. ATC will account for any winds aloft, so we do not use GPS ground track for heading assignments.

I bring this up as by the time I am over the opposite end of the runway, there is a good chance I am not physlcally over the runway on Xwind takeoffs.

On instrument approaches (landing) the opposite is true. We fly the magnetic heading down to the individual degree (157 heading to land on runway 16) to maintain runway centerline.

For obvious reasons, precision on landing is ramped up to the umteenth degree so we can find ourselves between the edges of the runway when the wheels meet terra firma after breaking out of the clouds.

For visual approaches, runway heading 160 heading for runway 16) will work just fine for landing as you don’t have to fly as precise to find the runway (you have it in sight, just fly toward it)…


Thought to mention that but didn’t want to get too complicated… I too was taught to cross check Rwy heading/ Rwy #/ Compass heading just prior to t/o roll… Good trick!!

In my example, if 268 was the heading looking down the centerline, the rwy heading would be 268… The rwy number would be 27 because it gets rounded to the nearest.

I can’t remember the reason why, but several years ago London-Heathrow’s runways changed from 10/28 to 09/27

Due to the ever-changing position of the magnetic north pole.

O.K. you are in you plane, the winds are directly from the southeast. Your plane is sitting at the end of the runway 15R-33L. You are at the 15R end and you are going to take off in a southeast direction. Does ATC tell you
“cleared for take off runway 33L” or “cleared for take off runway 15R”?

Now to make it a bit more complicated: Same conditions, except that it is an uncontrolled airport. You are again sitting at the 15R end of the runway and are going to take off to the southeast, following the runway direction. You have to announce your intention to take off to any traffic in the airport vicinity. Do you say “taking off runway 33L” or “take off runway 15R”?

You see the possibility for confusion?

See this discussion and the referenced photo of the airport:

Notice the second posting which says that the aircraft in the photo is climbing out after taking off on 15R. The aircraft is clearly flying in a southeast direction, i.e. toward the end of the runway marked 33L. So: what did the tower tell that aircraft for take off?

You are thinking wayyy too hard :slight_smile:

IF you are at the end where the numbers are painted 15R, that’s the runway no matter what direction the winds blow. ATC will assigned runways based on wind conditions in most cases (keeping it simple!) So to answer your question, you are cleared for take off on 15R.

If you happen to be parked on the north side of the airport, you will have to taxi (drive) a looooooong way down to get to the painted numbers 15R for a south bound departure if traffic is being assinged this runway for wind conditions. (again keeping it simple)

It’s no difference for controlled or uncontrolled. The paint on the runway designates the runway number which coincides with the direction you are flying. If it’s 15, you are flying south. If it’s 33, you are flying north. Remember, it’s the direction the nose of your airplane is pointing that matches the runway number.

The painted numbers for runway only show the direction of flight and NEVER swap ends.

Winds have nothing to do with the runway numbers as the runway numbers don’t magically change when the wind changes directiions :smiley:

Nope, again you are thinking waaaay too hard.

Think of runways as reverseable one way streets. The ends of the streets never change, just the flow of traffic.

To see from a pilots point of view, see the videos I posted in the video thread just about an hour ago. Maybe this will help you visually see what the pilot sees on both take off and landings.

Note, both videos have the same airport for both departure and arrival, so you can see what it looks like for take off and then also for landing (same runway).


In either case, you are either announcing or being told “cleared for take off, runway 15R”.

For extra confusion… check out DFWs runway layout. IIRC, there are 5 parallel runways. 18-36 L & R plus 17-35L,R,C. IIRC, they are all really parallel. They just tweaked the numbers because there are more than 3. (i.e. L,R,&C were all taken).

It’s not that confusing. Your plane is sitting at the end of the runway 15R-33L. You are at the 15R end and you are going to take off in a southeast direction.
In that case, as far as the pilot and ATC are concerned, runway 33L doesn’t even exist and no reference is made about 33L.

Thanks to all for the help. Am I right to set a general rule for myself that all references to runway markings are based upon seeing it from the pilot’s perspective? That is, in landing when a pilot refers to “at X altitude for 15” it’s because he/she is flying on a heading of approximately 150 degrees upon approach to the airport. Similarly, if a pilot ready for take off says
" take off 34" it’s because he/she will be flying in an approximate direction of 340 degrees.

The reason this came up is because I really wanted to get a photo of this plane in flight & I heard the pilot announce take of on “34”, so I positioned myself at the 34 end of the runway – but the plane flew off in the opposite direction! So I missed my photo due to my misunderstanding of what the pilot’s announcement actually said! Maybe next time!

You got it now!

Just to drive home the point…ignore the airplanes’ headings for a second. It’s the runway heading. A piece of asphalt laid out east/west would have one runway heading 090 (runway 9) and one runway heading 270 (runway 27). I can understand the confusion because the numbers “27” will be at the east end of the runway which seems to not make sense until you think about what heading you’d be facing when standing at the east end of the airport. (you’d be facing west, so 27 makes sense.)
Another part that makes it confusing is that winds of (for example) 270 at 10 knots the winds are coming from the west, the wind is blowing to the east. It takes students a few times to understand that. So if the winds are coming from the west, we should taxi to the east end of the airport to take off into the wind to the west.

Have I confused you more!?
Good luck!

LAX and DTW are similar. The LAX north complex is labeled 24R and 24L, even though the runway centerline is oriented 249.8 degrees. This eliminates any potential for pilot confusion, as if you are cleared for an approach to one of the 24s, it’s the north side, one of the 25s, the south side.

ATL is like this as well.

:smiley: :smiley: My head hurts :smiley: :smiley:

Now, try explaining the windsock to a newbie and why we fly away from the pointed end, yet fly in the pointy direction of the tetrahedral thingy at KMBO.