I'm watching a lot of aviation youtube channels and it seems to me that when attempting a landing on a "normal" glide path, it must be quite hard to read the runway numbers until you're on short final, which might affect the number of "wrong runway landings", especially on uncontrolled airfields.

  • Are they actually easier to read in reality than in the videos I'm watching?
  • If not, why aren't they painted with a higher aspect ratio (e.g. the numbers being twice as high, thus making them appear "less vertically compressed" when approaching on a "normal" glide path)?
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget the visual runway confirmation step before the beginning of the takeoff roll. If the pilots fail to do that, that can easily lead to incidents or even accidents like Singapore 006. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 14 '19 at 10:09
  • $\begingroup$ Valid point. Not sure if numbers with a greater height might be harder to read in that case. $\endgroup$ – Jan Nash Jan 14 '19 at 10:21

Runway numbers need to be readable from multiple angles, they aren't just for those on approach. Joining at uncontrolled airfields is usually done by flying over the airfield or approaching from any point on the compass, aspect ratios opposite to your viewing angle are hard to read and therefore counter productive for those in the pattern.


Good question!

Most incidents involving aircraft landing on the wrong runway occur when there is more than one runway in the same direction. In those cases, runways are identified as Left, Center and Right, or just Left and Right. I don't know of any airport with more than three parallel runways. There are other incidents where aircraft land on taxiways, but those are differentiated with blue lights, which makes them hard to miss.

Runway numbers are useful, but the easiest way to figure out if you are landing on the right runway is to look at the compass first, then look outside to see if you're landing on the right parallel runway if there are more than one.

Also, runway numbers are useless when the weather is obscuring the runway and you have to fly the approach on instruments.

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    $\begingroup$ KLAX is an example for an airport with more than three parallel runways. If there are more than three parallel runways, the numbers are one-off (as explained in this answer), which might make the identification of the rwy by looking at your heading a bit confusing (e.g. if you land on one of the 06 rwys in LAX, you still have to maintain a 070 heading on final, since the rwy headings are all 070.7. Nevertheless, the runway pairs are separated from each other by the airport buildings and there are no crossing rwys, which might make it easier. $\endgroup$ – Jan Nash Jan 14 '19 at 10:32
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    $\begingroup$ Also, there are no crossing rwys there, which might also make it less confusing. $\endgroup$ – Jan Nash Jan 14 '19 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ Ah. It's California. 'Nuff said. :) $\endgroup$ – Juan Jimenez Jan 14 '19 at 10:39
  • $\begingroup$ Adding to @JanNash's mention of KLAX, especially in relation to the mention of uncontrolled airfields, there's also the issue of multiple airports close together. My home field is like that; there's another airport very close by, both with runways on the same heading. In that case, one of the airports has the runway number off by one, to disambiguate the two. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 14 '19 at 11:48
  • $\begingroup$ That reminds me that years ago in Puerto Rico an Avianca 747 tried to land at TJIG instead of TJSJ, even though there is only one runway at TJIG and had the wrong runway number. Made one heck of a racket and scared the beejezus out of the entire residential area. $\endgroup$ – Juan Jimenez Jan 14 '19 at 14:16

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