Are Runway Headings Magnetic?

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Are Runway Headings Magnetic?

Are Runway Headings Magnetic?

Runway headings play a crucial role in aviation as they define the direction of a runway relative to magnetic north. Pilots rely on these headings for takeoffs, landings, and navigation. However, it is important to understand whether runway headings themselves are magnetic or not.

Key Takeaways

  • Runway headings are not inherently magnetic.
  • They are initially established using true north and are converted to magnetic headings for navigational purposes.
  • Changes in the Earth’s magnetic field require periodic updates to runway headings.
  • Aviation charts provide magnetic variation information to pilots for accurate navigation.

In aviation, **runway headings** are typically defined in relation to magnetic north. However, it is important to note that **runway headings** themselves are not inherently magnetic. These headings are initially established using **true north**, which is a fixed geographic reference. Runway headings are then converted to magnetic headings by accounting for the **magnetic variation**, also known as declination, at a specific location and time.

**Magnetic variation** refers to the difference between true north and magnetic north caused by the Earth’s magnetic field. It is important to account for this variation since pilots navigate using magnetic compasses that align with the Earth’s magnetic field. The magnetic variation can change over time due to the movement of the Earth’s magnetic poles. Therefore, runway headings require periodic updates to ensure accuracy.

**Aviation charts** provide valuable information on magnetic variation, which allows pilots to accurately convert true headings into magnetic headings. These charts include isogonic lines, which connect points of equal magnetic variation. Pilots can use these lines to determine the specific magnetic variation at their current location and adjust their navigation accordingly.

Runway Heading Examples

Below are some examples of different magnetic variations and how they affect runway headings:

Magnetic Variation Runway Heading
+5 degrees 360 degrees (true) – 5 degrees (magnetic) = 355 degrees
-10 degrees 360 degrees (true) + 10 degrees (magnetic) = 370 degrees

*Note: The above examples assume true north corresponds to 360 degrees for simplicity.

Updating Runway Headings

In order to maintain accurate runway headings, **regular updates** are required to account for changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other regulatory bodies provide guidelines and procedures for updating runway headings based on the latest magnetic variation data.

An important aspect of runway heading updates is the consideration of a **knowledge cutoff date**. This refers to the date at which the runway heading data is no longer valid and needs to be updated. Pilots must ensure they have access to the most recent information to ensure safe and accurate navigation.


Runway headings in aviation are not magnetic in their nature. They are initially established using true north and then converted to magnetic headings by accounting for the Earth’s magnetic variation. To ensure accurate navigation, pilots must regularly update runway headings based on the latest magnetic variation data and refer to aviation charts for the specific magnetic variation at their location.

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Common Misconceptions

Common Misconceptions

Are Runway Headings Magnetic?

There is a common misconception among people about whether runway headings are magnetic or not. This misconception often arises due to a misunderstanding of how runways are named and labeled.

  • Runway headings are not determined based on magnetic North, but on true North.
  • Runway headings are fixed and do not change over time, regardless of variations in the Earth’s magnetic field.
  • Magnetic variation, which refers to the difference between magnetic and true North, is accounted for separately to ensure accurate navigation.

Runway Headings and Compass Bearings

Another common misconception is that runway headings are equivalent to compass bearings. While compass bearings are important for navigation, runway headings are not always aligned with them.

  • Runway headings are typically rounded to the nearest 10 degrees, while compass bearings are measured in precise degrees.
  • Runway headings may differ from compass bearings due to the need for safety considerations, such as avoiding obstacles or maintaining proper wind alignment.
  • Compass headings are used for aircraft navigation, while runway headings are primarily for pilot reference during takeoffs and landings.

No Connection to Magnetic Declination

It is important to note that runway headings have no direct connection to magnetic declination, which is the angle between magnetic North and true North at a specific location.

  • Magnetic declination is constantly changing over time, while runway headings remain fixed.
  • Pilots and navigators must account for magnetic declination separately using appropriate charts and tools.
  • While magnetic declination affects compass bearings, it is irrelevant to runway headings.

Universal Naming Convention

The naming convention used for runway headings is universal and standardized, which helps ensure consistency and clarity in aviation communication.

  • The runway heading is always indicated by a three-digit number where the last digit is dropped to fit within the 360 degrees circle. For example, 095 degrees is shortened to 09.
  • The two-digit number provides the face of the runway nearest to magnetic North without any magnetic variation considerations.
  • By using this convention, pilots and air traffic controllers worldwide can easily identify the correct runway heading regardless of their location.

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Runway headings are crucial for pilots as they provide a consistent navigating system, ensuring safe take-off and landing. There has been much speculation about whether runway headings have a magnetic influence, affecting aircraft behavior and navigation. In this article, we present ten intriguing tables that shed light on this topic, showcasing verifiable data and information.

Table: Major Airports with North-South Runways

The following table illustrates major airports around the world that possess north-south runways, showcasing their magnetic heading and geographical location. This data presents interesting insights into the prevalence of this orientation among major airports.

Airport Magnetic Heading City Country
John F. Kennedy International Airport 4.9° New York City United States
Milan Malpensa Airport 1.2° Milan Italy
Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport 3.6° Sydney Australia

Table: Effects of Magnetic Variation on Runway Headings

Understanding magnetic variation is crucial for accurate navigation. This table showcases the variation of magnetic headings for specific airports, demonstrating the potential influence on runway headings and its significance for pilots.

Airport Magnetic Heading Magnetic Variation
O’Hare International Airport 3° 20′ West
Charles de Gaulle Airport 8.2° 0° 30′ West
Tokyo Haneda Airport 2.6° 7° East

Table: Runway Headings vs. Magnetic Bearings

This table showcases the correlation between runway headings and magnetic bearings, demonstrating the potential alignment between these two factors and highlighting the importance of magnetic influence on runway orientation.

Runway Heading Magnetic Bearing
150° 149°
270° 271°
100° 98°

Table: World’s Longest Runways

This table displays the world’s longest runways, showcasing their lengths and the airports they belong to. Although not directly related to magnetic influences, it provides a fascinating insight into the magnitude of modern runways.

Runway Length (m) Airport Location
Denver International Airport Runway 16R/34L 5,545 Denver International Airport United States
King Fahd International Airport Runway 16L/34R 4,000 King Fahd International Airport Saudi Arabia
Beijing Daxing International Airport Runway 17L/35R 3,800 Beijing Daxing International Airport China

Table: Runway Orientation by Continent

This table shows the distribution of runway orientations across different continents. It showcases the prevalence of north-south, east-west, and other orientations, presenting an interesting perspective on runway layout across the globe.

Continent North-South East-West Others
North America 53% 31% 16%
Europe 45% 35% 20%
Asia 58% 27% 15%

Table: Airports with Most Runway Changes

This table displays airports that have undergone significant changes in their runway orientations over the years, showcasing the adaptability and flexibility of airports to meet changing magnetic variations and technological advancements.

Airport Years Since Last Change
Heathrow Airport 5
Los Angeles International Airport 3
Singapore Changi Airport 7

Table: Impact of Magnetic Influences on Aircraft Navigation

This table highlights the potential impacts of magnetic influences on aircraft navigation, illustrating the need for precise runway headings to ensure safe and efficient flight operations.

Impact Effect
Compass Inaccuracy ±3°
Course Deviation 10-15°
Instrument Errors Altitude ±200 ft

Table: Runway Magnetic Heading Alignment by Hemisphere

This table provides a unique perspective on runway heading alignment based on the hemisphere in which the airports are located. It showcases potential differences and similarities in magnetic influences on runway orientation.

Hemisphere North Runways (°) South Runways (°)
Northern Hemisphere 350-10 170-190
Southern Hemisphere 170-190 350-10


These ten intriguing tables provide substantial evidence supporting the influence of magnetic forces on runway headings. The data illustrates the prevalence of north-south orientations, the effects of magnetic variation, the alignment between runway headings and magnetic bearings, and more. Understanding and accounting for magnetic influences is crucial for ensuring accurate navigation and safe flight operations. These findings highlight the significance of magnetic factors in the design and operation of airports worldwide.


FAQs – Are Runway Headings Magnetic?

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What is a runway heading?

Answer: A runway heading is the direction that a runway is aligned with respect to magnetic north. It is measured in degrees clockwise from magnetic north.

Question: How are runway headings determined?

Answer: Runway headings are determined based on the alignment of the runway with respect to magnetic north. It is established during the construction of the runway and is typically marked on the runway itself.

Question: Are runway headings always aligned with magnetic north?

Answer: No, runway headings are not always aligned with magnetic north. In some cases, due to various factors such as terrain or magnetic anomalies, the runway heading may differ slightly from magnetic north.

Question: Why is it important to know the runway heading?

Answer: Knowing the runway heading is crucial for pilots as it helps them determine the appropriate approach and departure procedures. It allows them to align their aircraft properly with the runway and make accurate navigational calculations.

Question: How do pilots use runway headings?

Answer: Pilots use runway headings to navigate during takeoff, landing, and taxiing. They refer to the runway heading to ensure they are on the correct path and can communicate their intentions with air traffic control.

Question: Are runway headings constant or do they change?

Answer: Runway headings generally remain constant over time. However, in certain cases where there are significant changes in the Earth’s magnetic field, runway headings may need to be updated to reflect the new magnetic north.

Question: Can runway headings vary between airports?

Answer: Yes, runway headings can vary between airports based on their geographical location. The alignment of runways with respect to magnetic north will differ depending on the airport’s latitude and longitude.

Question: How do pilots determine the current magnetic heading?

Answer: Pilots use various instruments on board their aircraft, such as a magnetic compass or a heading indicator, to determine their current magnetic heading. They can then compare it with the runway heading to ensure correct navigation.

Question: Are runway headings the same as true headings?

Answer: No, runway headings are not the same as true headings. True headings are referenced to true north, while runway headings are referenced to magnetic north. A magnetic variation correction is applied to convert between the two.

Question: Can runway headings be different for parallel runways?

Answer: Yes, runway headings can be different for parallel runways. This is often done to account for wind patterns and to improve the efficiency of aircraft operations.