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For example, i want to know which runway was used by NH 829 that flies from NRT to BOM (Narita-Tokyo to Bombay-Mumbai)

For flight tracking, I know and use these websites/apps - FlightAware, FlightRadar, FlightStats, Aviability, FlightMapper, Planefinder and Kvikr.

  1. https://www.flightradar24.com/data/flights/nh829
  2. https://flightaware.com/live/flight/ANA829
  3. https://www.flightstats.com/v2/flight-tracker/NH/829
  4. https://planefinder.net/data/flight/NH829
  5. https://www.flightera.net/flight/All+Nippon+Airways/NH829
  6. https://info.flightmapper.net/flight/ANA_NH_829
  7. https://www.radarbox24.com/data/flights/NH829
  8. https://www.airportia.com/flights/nh829/tokyo/mumbai/
  9. https://www.planemapper.com/flights/NH829
  10. https://kvikr.com/flight/nh829_ana

But none of them provide information about runway used for takeoff or landing at the source or destination airports respectively. I am looking for a publicly accessible, preferably free to use website/smartphone app/API or even a historical dataset (recent flights not those from the previous decade)

Is such information kept a secret (intentionally) or is it just that no one displays it, probably stored in the database. I understand that realtime information may not be available, but for past flights, such data should be available. I guess there could be country-specific restrictions too. But i want to see as much public data for any flight as available.

My ultimate goal is to find out which runway is used by LH717/LH716 and QF25/QF26 for takeoff and landing at HND (Haneda-Tokyo), so that i can get a better view of the Boeing 747 from as close as possible.

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    $\begingroup$ If getting close to the aircraft is your goal a historical dataset isn't really going to help much as the runway choice comes down to which way the wind is blowing. $\endgroup$ – Ben Nov 1 '18 at 4:43
  • $\begingroup$ i agree. historical dataset may be useless. I need MRU(most recently used) data, the reason i used "historical dataset" is - i thought i could find some patterns in it, but flight patterns are as uncertain as winds, yeah. thanks. I guess i can calculate seasonal probability at least from the historical dataset though. (say i could get list of flights and how often QF25/26 or LH717/716 are using runway D "05/23" at HND) $\endgroup$ – computingfreak Nov 1 '18 at 6:20
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    $\begingroup$ @computingfreak I am not familiar with operations at HND, but at many airports if trying to spot a particular aircraft, you’d be there well before the aircraft of interest arrives. There is a very good chance it will use the same runway as everyone else of a comparable type or weight class or “internationality”, depending on how the airport works, I would think? $\endgroup$ – Cpt Reynolds Nov 1 '18 at 7:20
  • $\begingroup$ It confuses me that you say the flight tracker do not show which runways were used. I usually look at fightradar24, and its position tracks are almost always precise enough to make it unambiguous which runway a tracked flight departed from (or arrived on). At airports with good coverage even the taxi route from the stand to the departure runway is plainly visible. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Nov 1 '18 at 11:26
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(Guessing the) Runway Selection

For spotting airplanes, you want to know which are the current active runways. The runway history of planes or flights shouldn't matter much, unless your plane of interest is limited in what runways it can use.

Large airports have many parallel runways. In general, outsiders will not have enough information at hand to predict the active runways. The factors that are considered for the selection of active runways are the following:

Aircraft take-off and land into the wind, or with minimal tail wind. Based on the wind direction, air traffic control will decide which runway is to be used at any given time.

Larger airports tend to have more than one runway, so that a runway is always available depending on the wind direction. Airports with just one runway are generally constructed so that the runway is aligned with the prevailing wind.

Runway selection is monitored at all times, as weather conditions can quickly change. Every runway has a wind indicator known as an ‘anemometer’, and wind observations contribute to the runway selection decision. Pilot reports of upper level winds can also impact on runway selection.

When a runway is selected, it needs to be available for an extended period of time to allow pilots to plan their descent, approach and landing. As this involves anticipation of developing trends, aircraft may continue to land on a runway for a period when weather conditions at a local level no longer appear to warrant it.

Other factors that air traffic control will take into consideration when deciding which runway to use include:

  • the number and type of aircraft programmed for the airport

  • length of runway(s)

  • weather conditions (both present and forecast); including wind velocity and gradient, wind shear, wake turbulence effects and position of the sun

  • availability of approach aids in poor visibility conditions

  • location of other aircraft

  • taxiing distances, including availability of taxiways

  • braking conditions.

Some airports also have ‘preferred runway’ systems. This means that if wind conditions, workload and traffic conditions permit, a particular runway will be used to move traffic as efficiently as possible to reduce the noise impact over residential areas.

This text is quoted from a short informational document on runway selection published by Airservices Australia.

ATC radio communication

It is possible to listen to ATC radio communications with a handheld scanner (always check if this is legal in your country!), or via the internet (LiveATC). There are different channels including Departure, Approach, Ground, and ATIS.

ATIS

Busy airports are usually equipped with Automatic Terminal Information Service. ATIS continuously broadcasts relevant information about the airport and immediate surroundings for pilots. This includes the actual runway in use. One can receive ATIS via VHF, or via phone. Frequencies and phone numbers are published in different ways. Airnav.com might be useful for the USA. LiveATC provides streaming of ATIS.

Ground

Aircraft are cleared for taxi to a runway on the Ground channel.

Approach

Aircraft receive their instructions and clearance for a runway on the Approach channel.

Websites

Airports

Some airports are publishing their actual active runways on a website. For instance:

enter image description here

This airport always assigns 1 active runway for landing and 1 active runway for starting. In the rush times, it opens an additional runway for landing or starting. In the snapshot above, the 2 runways for landing are red, the single runway for starting is blue.

There are probably not that many airports publishing this information to non-pilots, but surely there are more. Please comment if you know any other!

Flight Tracking

If there is no information available from the airport directly, you can always use flight tracking web sites like the ones you have listed in your question to observe which are the current active runways, for starting and for landing respectively. Keeping in mind that the assignment of active runways is not random, it is always reasonable to guess that the next aircraft will use the same runway as the previous ones. For approaching aircraft it is often possible to see if it is directly pointing to a runway, or if it follows a pattern to a runway that other aircraft have taken before.

Standard patterns and Operational procedures

If interested and willing to dig a bit deeper, you can always find and study standard approach patterns and operational procedures of your airport, e.g.

In combination with flight tracking web sites, this will allow you to recognize the usual patterns, and predict earlier where a tracked plane is going to land.

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    $\begingroup$ It may be worth noting some parameters that determine what runways are active to begin with, for example wind direction. $\endgroup$ – DeepSpace Nov 1 '18 at 8:21
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    $\begingroup$ You can also look at FlightRadar24 and figure out the active runways based on current air traffic: just watch where aircraft are landing and taking off. $\endgroup$ – Zach Lipton Nov 1 '18 at 9:50
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks @bogl, the documents at uvairlines.com/admin/resources/RJTT.pdf, yinlei.org/x-plane10/doc/AIP-J/RJTT_Tokyo_INTL.pdf, twin.ne.jp/~watanabe/satjpn/files/RJTT.pdf and minietonrailroad.org/charts/RJTT_Tokyo.pdf based on "RJTT SID STAR" and the Operational Procedures at Tokyo International Airport (Haneda) document seem to answer my questions, will read them and find out rules for 747 aircraft, possibly eliminating unusable runways due to aircraft type/size. $\endgroup$ – computingfreak Nov 2 '18 at 1:26
  • $\begingroup$ you forgot THE major factor in runway selection on ever more airports (and specifically EHAM): noise abatement. Schiphol is well known for selecting the runways to use almost exclusively based on noise abatement requirements unless winds are such that use of other runways is mandated to prevent aircraft going over their crosswind limits. This has caused at least one aircraft to have an unscheduled runway vacation (a Transavia 757) when attempting to land in heavy crosswinds because the optimal runway was closed by orders of the ministry of the environment. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Oct 15 at 4:09
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The choice of runway depends on wind and other factors and will change frequently. The dominant runway(s) can change several times a day if the wind is changing a lot.

You could potentially detect which runway set was being used by evaluating FlightAware information, but that would require programming and geographic computations. There is no service that attempts to do this kind of computation currently.

Even if you knew the dominant landing direction, if there are parallel runways, there would be no way to determine which of the two was being used for any particular flight because that changes more or less randomly on a flight by flight basis depending on the local traffic needs.

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FlightAware now provides Active and Actual runway information on the flight page. Disclaimer: I work at FlightAware but was not involved in this feature, so can't provide any further details.

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