I was not succesful with finding an answer to this anywhere on the web. Let’s assume we have multiple runways in the airport and ATC controller gives us instructions to cross certain runway that is not active at the moment.

The runway they mention is not active so its name does not have to be determined by wind direction (or as in use).

Let’s say we have two active runways 22L and 22R and ATC controller wants us to cross runway 31L/13R. Which of these names is used while in common only one name is used at a time?

I was listening liveatc.net from JFK when the ATC controller asked the pilot to cross 31R but the pilot readbacked with 13L. Obviously it´s the same physical runway but what is legit / correct / right to choose first?


2 Answers 2


It's pretty much dealer's choice (or controller's choice) how to refer to an inactive runway. They might choose to refer to the runway according to the most commonly used direction or calm-wind-use direction as that's what they normally say and it flows better. Or as @Michael Hall said they may change it up based on which landing threshold the pilot is nearest to.

In fact, at my airport I will "switch it up" for one of the runways (depending on where a landed aircraft is going it is common for me to have told one of them to "cross runway 36" and another "cross runway 18") but the other runway I will almost always refer to by its "normal" name of 27, because it is so rarely used as runway 9.

Of course if the runway is temporarily active then I will refer to it according to its active direction, so that everyone is on the same page.


I would think it would depend on the specific layout of runways at that airfield, where the wind is coming from in general, and which end of the runway you are closest to at the point of crossing.

Consider for example the airport below: If RW 35 was in use and you were leaving from the Air Carrier Terminal at the NW corner you would be given instructions to taxi south on W, and would likely be cleared to cross RW 8, simply because that is the approach end numbers for that runway.

However, if you were coming from the hangars to the NE and were to cross the same 8/26 runway at midfield on taxiway F, I'm not sure what the controller would say with absolute certainty. However, there may be a technigue they teach at ATC school, and/or a local standard to ensure clarity. In any case, the clearance should be unambiguous. Read it back verbatim, and ask if you are uncertain.

Olympia Airport Diagram


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