By Aaron Flodin


Important terms

  • Uncontrolled field - An airport without an operating control tower
  • Controlled field - An airport that has an operating control tower
  • CTAF - Common Traffic Advisory Frequency

Welcome to the VATSIM PRC runway selection tutorial. In this section we will cover many aspects of choosing a runway for use. 
Because this section is strictly about runway selection we will not cover any of the weather interpretation that usually goes along
with selecting a runway. If you are having trouble finding the weather for a certain airport, please read MetarsandTafs .

All runways are given their numbers based on their magnetic heading. So for instance, when you line up on runway 22, your heading indicator should read 220 degrees. Likewise if you line up on runway 34, your heading indicator should read approximately 340 degrees, pretty simple huh? Using magnetic headings as runway numbers is the same throughout the world.

There are several factors that we must consider when deciding which runway to use.

  • Aircraft Performance
  • Wind Direction
  • Traffic flow
  • Obstruction Clearance

Aircraft Performance
The first and most obvious criterion for runway selection is aircraft performance. We will not cover the many aspects of aircraft takeoff/landing performance in this section, If you are interested in reading more about the calculations necessary to determine aircraft performance as it relates to takeoff and landing, please see [insert lesson link here]. For right now what we need to remember is that after all of our careful planning and calculations are complete, the runway must be long enough to handle our aircraft. It is VERY important to note that takeoff and landing distances ARE NOT THE SAME. Just because you can get an aircraft off the ground in a certain length does not mean that the same aircraft will stop in that distance. 

Wind Direction
When chosing a runway for departure, oftentimes the most important factor is wind direction. Taking off in to the wind reduces takeoff roll distance and provides a greater margin for error should things go wrong.

Traffic Flow
Traffic flow is also a very important consideration when choosing your runway. At controlled fields this is not so much of a problem because the controllers will take responsibility for flow control, but at uncontrolled fields, departing the runway in the correct direction is very important to the safety of your airplane and to the aircraft around you. When departing an uncontrolled field, the best practice is to listen to the CTAF (122.80 on VATSIM) and ask other pilots at the airport what runway is in use. All pilots should be monitoring this frequency. 

Obstruction Clearance
This is especially important for IFR pilots when the weather is bad. For the scope of this lesson; suffice it to say you want to make sure there is nothing your going to hit after you takeoff. A review of local charts and taking a nice hard look at the departure end of the runway should tell you all you need to know. 

Unpaved Runways

That's right! Not all runways have that nice hard blacktop that most of us are used to. Below I have listed some of these runway types. Many of these runways require special takeoff/landing techniques. 

  • Grass
  • Gravel
  • Dirt
  • Water