Do runways always handle traffic in the same direction? Another question asked how runways were labelled left and right (8L and 8R, for example). But of course "left" and "right" depend on your perspective. If you were approaching from the opposite direction, then left would be right and vice versa.

Does this mean that runways only handle traffic coming from the same direction all of the time? Are there no ambidextrous runways that flip depending on the prevailing winds or whims of ATC?

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    $\begingroup$ Most runways do flip direction with the wind. The will be ATC's call at a towered field or the pilots' call at an untowered field. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ L and R are swapped when looked from the other way, Runways are usually both ways, unless using them the other way is dangerous (e.g. due to a mountain), or not allowed (e.g. due to noise). You'll find a lot of information in the two questions identified as duplicates. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 19:59

1 Answer 1


As noted in the linked question to the question you linked to (this one), runways are almost always bidirectional. In your example, the other runway would be simply numbered 18 higher or lower, for 180 degrees off. Thus, the runways would be 26R and 26L - the "L" and "R" would swap, because you are pointed at them the opposite way. You can see this in the diagram of LAX below (src):


Yes, generally they flip based on prevailing winds, though I can't imagine they flip based on the "whims" of ATC often. Most airports will have a "calm wind runway", which is the preferred runway for operations in calm or near-calm winds.

Due to terrain or similar factors, some runways may be only usable one direction, but both directions will still be numbered, as you will takeoff and land pointing different directions (for example, Lukla airport in Nepal). Alternatively, as Jan Hudec noted, some will operate one-way, such as TNCM, though again, both runways are numbered. Occasionally, the opposite direction is not numbered, though this is rare.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, there are runways which have landing procedure only in one direction due to terrain, but do permit take-off in the same direction as landing, making them effectively one-way since using the same direction for both is safer. Example is TNCM (Pricess Juliana International Airport). $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 8:00

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