# Can planned runway closures prevent a plane from leaving an airport?

I was on a flight recently where, due to the long runway at my airport being repaired, we had to fly to another nearby airport to get enough fuel for the rest of our trip. We couldn't take off with enough fuel for even a two hour flight because of the runway closure, and this was at a major GA airport.

I'd imagine there are runway closure regulations to prevent this kind of thing from causing serious logistic issues, but do planned runway closures ever make a trip impossible even with refueling? Considering factors like airspace restrictions, distance, heavy cargo, etc. it's easy to imagine that a flight normally possible could become impossible due to a planned runway closure, even if you try to refuel at the nearest allowed airport. What airport regulations are there to mitigate this and how big of an issue is this? For example, can an airplane ever be stranded while airport construction is occurring? How are airports required to notify pilots in advance of planned closures and are there regulations to prevent stranding airplanes or causing logistic issues by closing the only long runway at a critical airport?

Note: I'm not concerned with weather-related closures here, but rather planned runway closures. My question is aimed at GA where things are more flexible, but applicable answers from commercial aviation can be accepted too.

• Yes, of course. Aircraft have minimum runway lengths that they can use, if there are no runways available that are long enough, then you have to fly to an alternate or cancel the trip (mission). Some GA airports only have a single runway, and of course if you can't land on it, you can't go there. – Ron Beyer Sep 25 '16 at 16:49
• @RonBeyer if you can provide relevant regulation, statistics, or even examples then that'd make a good answer. It's obvious this can occur in situations like really heavy cargo or short runways, but I'm wondering what factors there are to mitigate this (including how often there's a reasonable alternate for landing or refueling) and how big of an issue it is. – Cody P Sep 25 '16 at 16:55
• What regulation are you looking for? That you can't land on a closed runway? Or that you have to land on a runway that meets the distance required by your aircraft? For example there is a small airport near me called Carter (92C) that has a single paved runway and a turf runway closed in the winter. If the paved runway is closed (for example, when it is being plowed), you can't fly there. Every pilot should always have a viable alternate before taking off though, regulations 91.13 and 91.103(b) apply. – Ron Beyer Sep 25 '16 at 17:03
• @RonBeyer I'm looking more for airport regulations rather than pilot regulations because pilot regulations here seem straightforward. I added to my second paragraph to address your question. – Cody P Sep 25 '16 at 20:43
• Pilots are notified of abnormal airport conditions—such as runway closures—via the Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) publications. – J Walters Sep 25 '16 at 20:54

There is actually a really good example of this...

In 1994 it was decided that the infamous Meigs Field would be demolished and turned into a park. (I say infamous because for all of us young flight simulator aficionados this is the home airport of Microsoft Flight Simulator).

On a Sunday night, March 30, 2003, the Mayor Daley of Chicago ordered the runway bulldozed by gouging huge X's into the runway itself. This was done in the middle of the night with many aircraft still based on the field. No notice was given to the FAA or the owners of aircraft still on the field. In fact, an inbound flight had to be diverted by air traffic control because of equipment on the runway.

You can imagine what kind of excrement storm this stirred up. In the morning of March 31, 2003 at a press conference Daley defended his actions by saying that it would have saved the city of Chicago years of court battles over closing the airport. Luckily the aircraft at the field were allowed to depart from the 3000' taxiway that ran adjacent to the runway.

In this case, the worst the FAA could do was fine the city of Chicago \$33,000 (\$1,100 per day) for closing an ILS procedure without a 30 day notice. Later it was found that they misappropriated FAA funds to demolish the runway and build the park and that had to be paid back, but there were no legal implications of this. The airport was not under federal funding and the city was technically within its rights to close it.

The point is that airports are often owned by the city in which they reside, or sometimes the state, at least in the U.S. The FAA releases many guidelines for airports to make them safe, and even has an "airport certification program" for certifying part 139 operations, however these are done through "orders" and guidelines, not much in the way of FAR's.

ATC, if federally operated, must comply with the regulations that apply, including giving NOTAM information for planned closures, or even NOTAM's for closures that are not planned, such as runway debris or accidents closing runways.

So really when you get down to it, the city that owns the airport can close runways (or the entire airport) whenever they want, and yes this may strand aircraft. Usually if the airport is closed unexpectedly and aircraft are still there, they will be allowed to take off from taxiways or grass strips. Worst case scenario the wings will have to be removed and it will need to be trucked out, at least for GA operations.

Depending on the Ops Spec for the airline, it may also allow the aircraft to take off from a taxiway. Usually something like that is done without passengers on board though.

Is an airport required to give notice to pilots (or aircraft owners) about planned construction? No, there is no requirement for this. Usually what happens is airports don't give adequate notification and it agitates owners, but it all works out in the end.

For example, can an airplane ever be stranded while airport construction is occurring? Yes, at Meigs originally owners had to fight to be allowed to take-off. Many aircraft where going to be scrapped as they were too expensive to move by truck, and owners didn't want to pay. The city didn't want to pay, and the insurance company didn't want to pay, so that would have kicked off a big set of lawsuits for the city.

Closing runways can't always be avoided, for example when there is an accident, weather (flooding, snow, ice), earthquakes, etc. It happens and the system "works" around it when it does.

• That is the best example ever of fait accompli. – TomMcW Sep 26 '16 at 23:59
• One note is that the FAA often has contracts with cities requiring the airport to be operational for a period, which is one of the few ways the FAA has to prevent airports from closing all runways. This is one of the issues being brought up currently (in 2016) as the city of Santa Monica is trying to force closure of their airport. – Cody P Sep 28 '16 at 16:47
• Dick move, Daley. – Sean Apr 30 '18 at 23:39

It shouldn't happen if people check their NOTAMs.

The Australian rules are found in the Part 139 Manual of Standards. I don't know where to find the US equivalent but I'd be surprised it it is vastly different.

Firstly, if the aerodrome must be altogether closed for non-emergency work, a NOTAM must be published at least 14 days beforehand:

10.10.2.8 The operator must not close the aerodrome to aircraft operations due to aerodrome works, unless a NOTAM giving notice of the closure has been issued not less than 14 days before closure takes place

For other work of a significant nature that doesn't require the whole aerodrome to be closed, a Method of Working Plan (MOWP) is usually required. This is basically a comprehensive plan outlining what work will be done and the impact it will have. It is issued well in advance of the works being undertaken to local operators, ATC, airlines and other stakeholders.

10.11.3.1 The MOWP must: (a) include an outline of the full scope of the works and state which aerodrome facilities are affected. (b) provide the planned date and time of commencement, the duration of each stage and the time of completion. (c) contain the following sentence: “The actual date and time of commencement will be advised by a NOTAM, to be issued not less than 48 hours before work commences”.

Some basic repair or maintenance activities are classed as time-limited works. These don't need to go through the MOWP process, however they need a NOTAM to be issued 24 hours in advance if they affect safety and cannot completely pack up with 10 minutes notice. This includes repairing lights, mowing the grass, even sweeping.

10.10.3.3 A person must not commence time-limited works that require more than 10 minutes to restore normal safety standards to the movement area and remove obstacles, unless a NOTAM has been issued not less than 24 hours before the commencement, giving the date and time of commencement and the time required to restore normal safety standards.

The key theme here is that unless it is an emergency, every repair work affecting aircraft operations is required to be communicated well in advance, via NOTAM and a direct approach to operators.

Also, as most airports are private enterprises they understand the value of not screwing over their customers, so for big-impact works they give a lot more notice. When Dubai resurfaced one of the runways a year or two ago, I recall reading about it over 6 months in advance, because it was would cause such disruption. This generous notice period allowed their customers to alter their schedules to minimise commercial impacts.