Which method is used to measure the runway conditions? Is it impossible to land on a contaminated runway?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Are you asking specifically about runway contamination? If so, you might want to ask how "contamination" is defined and measured. Or do you mean something more general like how runway surface friction is measured? $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Dec 28, 2015 at 19:05

1 Answer 1



Runway conditions are measured using a friction standard: ICAO Circular 329, Runway Surface Condition Assessment, Measurement and Reporting.

Local regulation applies too, e.g. for UK: RA 3272 – Continuous Friction Measuring Equipment.

Adequate runway friction characteristics are needed for three distinct purposes:

  • deceleration of the aeroplane after landing or a rejected take-off;
  • maintaining directional control during the ground roll on take-off or landing, in particular in the presence of cross-wind, asymmetric engine power or technical malfunctions;
  • wheel spin-up at touchdown.

(Source -- Source also used for most of the technical details in this post)

  • Continuous Friction Measuring Device / Equipment (CFMD / CFME)

enter image description here
(Source: Team Eagle)

enter image description here

  • Decelerometer, Brakemeter, Dynometer... for snow and ice.

enter image description here
(Source: Sherwin Industries)

Minimum Friction Level (MFL) μ is specified by local air authority. A value less than 0.34 is seen by ICAO as slippery.

Friction is measured for each third of the runway, in a direction parallel to the runway centerline.

enter image description here


Runway friction coefficient should be measured at least daily and reported via NOTAM if needed. NOTAM codes for friction measurement equipment:

  • BOW Bowmonk Decelerometer
  • BRD Brakemeter-Dynometer
  • ERD Electronic Recording Decelerometer
  • GRT Griptester
  • MUM Mark 4 Mu Meter
  • RFT Runway friction tester
  • SFH Surface friction tester (high pressure tire)
  • SFL Surface friction tester (low pressure tire)
  • SKH Skiddometer (high pressure tire)
  • SKL Skiddometer (low pressure tire)
  • TAP Tapley Decelerometer

A contamination terminology is used for a qualitative description of the runway condition. It can be used in complement of the friction coefficient value, or alone when a measure is not possible.

Sample for water on the runway:

  • DAMP: the surface shows a change of colour due to moisture.
  • WET: the surface is soaked but there is no standing water.
  • WATER PATCHES: significant patches of standing water are visible.
  • FLOODED: extensive standing water is visible.

Other terms exist for snow, ice, etc.

A runway or portion thereof shall be determined as being slippery when wet when the measurements with a CFME + self wetting tyre shows that the runway surface friction characteristics are below the minimum friction level specified by the State.

NOTAM sample:

NOTAN A1713/11 Chennai Airport ( VOMM ),  India
A1713/11 1111220910/1112231200 EST RWY
RWY07 BTN 400M AND 650M
RWY25 BTN 300M AND 500M

As commented by @RonBeyer (thanks!), pilots can also provide their own observations about braking conditions to ATC using PIREPS. PIREPS are voluntary reports by pilots to share information with ATC and other pilots. They are valued because they are current and they may be the only information available at small airfields.

ATC and recorded bulletins provide runway conditions to pilots, in addition of NOTAM.

Impact on roll distance

Weather has many impact on operations, but runway contamination particularly impacts landings, due to the loss of braking capacity. Take-off are also impacted, mostly at the beginning of the take-off roll, when the control surfaces are not active. Runway condition is also important to take into account if a take-off has to be rejected.

A degraded runway condition decreases the longitudinal stability and increases the roll distance:

enter image description here
Note: As mentioned by @Yos233, autobrake LOW and MEDIUM have been inverted

Thrust reversers are particularly useful when the runway is not dry:

enter image description here
Note: Autobrake LOW and MEDIUM still inverted

Pilots will use similar tables to determine if they can land or take-off. A flight management computer can also be fed with the runway condition for roll distance determination..

Aircraft are tested for their ability to cope with different runway conditions:

enter image description here
A340 test on artificially flooded runway (source)

Note that it is possible to land and take-off quite easily on compacted snow -- and, albeit more difficult, on ice -- taking into account the coefficient of friction:

enter image description here
Alton Bay runway (source)


  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Only thing I say you are missing are PIREPS (pilot reports). Usually when flying around at the untowered fields, I'll provide the nearest control facility information about runway conditions and braking action since a lot of times the information they have is old and unreliable. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Dec 28, 2015 at 21:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer: Thanks, indeed PIREPS are important data, I have added your input, but feel free to edit my answer directly as you like. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Dec 28, 2015 at 21:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Off topic, but why does the autobrake medium result in a longer landing roll than the autobrake low? Shouldn't the opposite be true? $\endgroup$
    – Yos233
    Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 2:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Yos233: Nice shot! You are right. The caption has been inverted, the reason is probably that they had to replace a solid line by a dashed line when they converted from colors from this document. However the latter has another anomaly that you'll likely find :-) $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 2:47

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