At LAX, planes (usually) take off from east to west. On the west end of the runways there are dark tire marks.

What is the cause of thesey tire marks? Failed take offs? Late landings? Something else?

runway marks on northwest LAX runway

See Google Maps of LAX

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Aircraft land in the same direction that they take off from, and you can see one aircraft in the image you posted heading out to that runway to take off. Which runway they choose depends on the wind (typically) so they will use whatever one favors a headwind. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 19:18

3 Answers 3


The marks are left by the tires of landing planes when they touch down -- that is, ordinary routine landings.

The wheels of a landing aircraft do not start rotating before they hit the runway -- so right at the moment of touchdown, the wheels will at first skid along the runway surface until the friction between tires and runway has delivered enough angular momentum to the tire to spin it up so it matches the ground speed of the landing plane. Once that happens, the wheel will roll normally.

This skidding causes the skid marks you have observed.

Even if the runway is usually used in the east-to-west direction, there are still enough days where landings are from the west that both ends of the runway will collect tire marks. How many days that are doesn't really influence how black the runway gets, only how long it can go between having the rubber buildup cleaned off.

At the few airports that are really only used in one direction (such as the famous Princess Juliana Intl Airport at St. Maarten, which does not even have charted approaches from the east due to terrain obstacles) you will find the tire marks only at the touchdown end of the runway.

  • $\begingroup$ Seems logical enough. I was confused because I watch planes landing their all day from the east. Thanks for answering! $\endgroup$
    – Trevor
    Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Trevor When your Santa Ana winds en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Ana_winds blow from the east the planes land on that runway. Yes it is not the typical direction for landing but happens often enough where you live. $\endgroup$
    – Craig K
    Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 23:47
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    $\begingroup$ Besides atypical weather, LAX prefers to land planes in this direction overnight as well (allows the approach to be over the ocean, reducing noise). So it's used a lot when you're not necessarily watching. lawa.org/uploadedFiles/LAX/noise/PDF/… $\endgroup$
    – BowlOfRed
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 23:28

That would be caused by the tires which are not rolling start rubbing away on the runway on touchdown. Since the tires are not moving, it is going to "scrape" on the runway and leave a mark. This problem is addressed by this question. It also produces some smoke as you can see in the image.

enter image description here

Image Source

Same thing happens when a car spins on the road. enter image description here

I can't find the source for this.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the car doing donuts gif $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 1:47
  • $\begingroup$ Not just "the car", @AdityaSharma, but "the Lamborghini'! $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 19:31

The reason for the marks is that this is the touchdown zone of the runway. The aiming point for landing is the 1,000' marker, the pair of solid white stripes. This is where the ILS glideslope and visual landing aids are aligned. Planes to float past the touchdown marker because of the flair at the end of landing so the densest tire marks tend to be at and just beyond the marker.


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