Airports everywhere continue changing the name of their runways. This is not because the styles are changing continuously or the rules and regulations keep on changing.
But as a result of the earth’s magnetic field keeps on shifting. It may not sound like it but the continuous replacement of airport signs and repaints costs hundreds of dollars each time. The reason behind this constant modification is that the magnetic north Pole moves as much as forty miles per year.
This extreme variability brings problems for pilots and airports since the runways are named on the basis of how many degrees off north they’re.
Wichita’s 14/32 runway can be used from either direction. It’s either 140 degrees from the north or 320 degrees in a different direction. These numbers are rounded to the closest 10 and then shortened 2 digits.
This is an easy way for pilots to make sure that they’re landing and taking off from the correct strip. However, the earth’s magnetic fields complicate this easy system. The Federal Aviation Agency orders airports to alter the runway names. Once they have been modified to an extent that they are no longer round to the same figure.
For example, a runway that’s named thirty-six won’t have to change its name if the degrees off north went from 355 to 359. However when it goes to 354, the number must be modified to thirty-five.
This process is currently happening at the Wichita Eisenhower International airport. Runways 1L/19R, 1R/19L. The numbers refer to parallel runways and the R and L represent the left and right.
The 14/32 will be modified to 2L/20R, 2R/20L, and 15/33. After 1954, this is the first time the runways will be renamed. Many times, the distinction doesn’t even matter much since the pilots can visually determine the correct runway. However mislabeling can also cause serious consequences like the 2006 Comair Flight 5191 crash in Lexington, Kentucky. The crash killed forty-nine individuals.
The investigation on the case revealed that the crew couldn’t correctly determine the runway. And took off from the shorter runway that resulted in the crash. Keeping up with the constantly changing magnetic fields can be a bit of a pain and extra effort. However, as long as it is keeping the flights safe, it’s worth all the effort.