There are markings and signs used at airports that provide directions and assist pilots in airport operations. It is important for you to know the meanings of the signs, markings, and lights that are used on airports as surface navigational aids. All airport markings are painted on the surface, whereas some signs are vertical and some are painted on the surface. An overview of the most common signs and markings are described on the following pages. Additional information may be found in Chapter 2, “Aeronautical Lighting and Other Airport Visual Aids,” of the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM).
Runway Markings and Signs
Runway markings vary depending on the type of operations conducted at the airport. A basic VFR runway may only have centerline markings and runway numbers. Refer to Appendix C of this publication for an example of the most common runway markings that are found at airports.
Since aircraft are affected by the wind during takeoffs and landings, runways are laid out according to the local prevailing winds. Runway numbers are in reference to magnetic north. Certain airports have two or even three runways laid out in the same direction. These are referred to as parallel runways and are distinguished by a letter added to the runway number (e.g., runway 36L (left), 36C (center), and 36R (right)).
Relocated Runway Threshold
It is sometimes necessary, due to construction or runway maintenance, to close only a portion of a runway. When a portion of a runway is closed, the runway threshold is relocated as necessary. It is referred to as a relocated threshold and methods for identifying the relocated threshold vary. A common way for the relocated threshold to be marked is a ten foot wide white bar across the width of the runway. [Figure 14-5A and B]
When the threshold is relocated, the closed portion of the runway is not available for use by aircraft for takeoff or landing, but it is available for taxi. When a threshold is relocated, it closes not only a set portion of the approach end of a runway, but also shortens the length of the opposite direction runway. Yellow arrow heads are placed across the width of the runway just prior to the threshold bar.
A displaced threshold is a threshold located at a point on the runway other than the designated beginning of the runway. Displacement of a threshold reduces the length of runway available for landings. The portion of runway behind a displaced threshold is available for takeoffs in either direction, or landings from the opposite direction. A ten feet wide white threshold bar is located across the width of the runway at the displaced threshold, and white arrows are located along the centerline in the area between the beginning of the runway and displaced threshold. White arrow heads are located across the width of the runway just prior to the threshold bar. [Figure 14-6A and B]
Runway Safety Area
The runway safety area (RSA) is a defined surface surrounding the runway prepared, or suitable, for reducing the risk of damage to airplanes in the event of an undershoot, overshoot, or excursion from the runway. The dimensions of the RSA vary and can be determined by using the criteria contained within AC 150/5300-13, Airport Design, Chapter 3. Figure 3-1 in AC 150/5300-13 depicts the RSA. Additionally, it provides greater accessibility for firefighting and rescue equipment in emergency situations.
The RSA is typically graded and mowed. The lateral boundaries are usually identified by the presence of the runway holding position signs and markings on the adjoining taxiway stubs. Aircraft should not enter the RSA without making sure of adequate separation from other aircraft during operations at uncontrolled airports. [Figure 14-7]
Runway Safety Area Boundary Sign
Some taxiway stubs also have a runway safety area boundary sign that faces the runway and is visible to you only when exiting the runway. This sign has a yellow background with black markings and is typically used at towered airports where a controller commonly requests you to report clear of a runway. This sign is intended to provide you with another visual cue that is used as a guide to determine when you are clear of the runway safety boundary area. The sign shown in Figure 14-8 is what you would see when exiting the runway at Taxiway Kilo. You are out of the runway safety area boundary when the entire aircraft passes the sign and the accompanying surface painted marking.
Runway Holding Position Sign
Noncompliance with a runway holding position sign may result in the FAA filing a Pilot Deviation against you. A runway holding position sign is an airport version of a stop sign. [Figure 14-9] It may be seen as a sign and/or its characters painted on the airport pavement. The sign has white characters outlined in black on a red background. It is always collocated with the surface painted holding position markings and is located where taxiways intersect runways. On taxiways that intersect the threshold of the takeoff runway, only the designation of the runway may appear on the sign.
If a taxiway intersects a runway somewhere other than at the threshold, the sign has the designation of the intersecting runway. The runway numbers on the sign are arranged to correspond to the relative location of the respective runway thresholds. Figure 14-10 shows “18-36” to indicate the threshold for Runway 18 is to the left and the threshold for Runway 36 is to the right. The sign also indicates that you are located on Taxiway Alpha.
If the runway holding position sign is located on a taxiway at the intersection of two runways, the designations for both runways are shown on the sign along with arrows showing the approximate alignment of each runway. [Figure 14-11A and B] In addition to showing the approximate runway alignment, the arrows indicate the direction(s) to the threshold of the runway whose designation is immediately next to each corresponding arrow.
This type of taxiway and runway/runway intersection geometry can be very confusing and create navigational challenges. Extreme caution must be exercised when taxiing onto or crossing this type of intersection. Figure 14-11A and B shows a depiction of a taxiway, runway/runway intersection and is also designated as a “hot spot” on the airport diagram. In the example, Taxiway Bravo intersects with two runways, 31-13 and 35-17, which cross each other.
Surface painted runway holding position signs may also be used to aid you in determining the holding position. These markings consist of white characters on a red background and are painted on the left side of the taxiway centerline. Figure 14-12 shows a surface painted runway holding position sign that is the holding point for Runway 32R-14L.
You should never allow any part of your aircraft to cross the runway holding position sign (either a vertical or surface painted sign) without a clearance from ATC. Doing so poses a hazard to yourself and others.
When the tower is closed or you are operating at a nontowered airport, you may taxi past a runway holding position sign only when the runway is clear of aircraft, and there are no aircraft on final approach. You may then proceed with extreme caution.