Thank the Planet's Shifty Magnetic Poles for Runway Renaming

WIRED | 1/19/2018 | Alex Davies
vpp1219 (Posted by) Level 3
Click For Photo: https://media.wired.com/photos/5a61428b8d54c45db9d485cb/191:100/pass/MagnetRunway-FeatureArt-157741248.jpg

For decades, pilots heading into or out of Wichita Eisenhower National Airport in southeast Kansas have had three runways to choose from: 1L/19R, 1R/19L, and 14/32. Now, at the orders of the FAA, the airport will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to give itself a makeover. Workers will repaint those huge numbers at the ends of each runway and replace copious signage. Pilots and air traffic controllers will study new reference manuals and approach plates, all updated to reflect an airport whose three runways have been renamed. World, meet 2L/20R, 2R/20L, and 15/33—which happen to be the same runways that have been welcoming planes since 1954.

This is not a “What’s in a name?” situation. The runways may be the same sweet-smelling stretches of tarmac they’ve always been, but the world around them has changed. Well, the magnetic fields around the world have changed. The planet’s magnetic poles—the points that compasses recognize as north and south—are always wandering about. The magnetic North Pole (as opposed to the geographic one, which doesn't move) shifts by as much as 40 miles a year, and is steadily headed from somewhere over Canada toward Russia.

Problem - Runways - Headings - Wichita - First

That’s a problem, because most runways are named for their magnetic headings. Take Wichita’s 14/32. First off, because planes can land or take off from either direction, you can think of it as two runways: 14 and 32. (Pro tip: Pilots say "one-four" and "three-two," not 14 and 32.) If you’re looking at a compass, one end is about 140 degrees off of north, counting clockwise. The other end is 320 degrees off. For simplicity’s sake, the headings are rounded to the nearest five, and dropped to two digits. So if you’re looking down at Wichita Eisenhower, runway 14/32 is the one running from the northwest to the southeast. The...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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