Skip to main content

Access to airfields


(Published Jan 2018 replacing April 2013)


Before going to any airfield - private, civil or military permission must be obtained from the appropriate controlling body.  The only exceptions to this are the spectators enclosure when visiting a civil airport, or on an open day at a military airfield.

Before attending members of the group should have instruction on:

  • The general layout of the airfield with special reference to runways in use, taxiing areas and safe areas for spectators.
  • The hazards of jet intakes and exhausts, propellers, ejection seats, explosive canopies,
  • Glider and paraglider launching cables and aviation fuels.

Airfield Layout and Features

The plan below illustrates the main features in the layout of a typical airfield. 

When airfields were first built it was thought best to have a triangular pattern of runways to cut down the need for landings to be made in a cross wind, but as aircraft developed and landings speeds increased, the length of the runway became more important than the wind direction. Modern airfields confine operations to one or two runways which are 50m wide and 1500m long.  In some cases where large, heavy aircraft operate, main runways can be as wide as 75m, and as long as 3500m.

The approach and overrun areas must be kept free of obstruction to allow for landing or departing aircraft over-running the runway.  The runway threshold is marked by a broad white line across its full width.  White chevrons prior to the threshold indicate a sterile area, not to be used for touchdown.  A broken white line is used to indicate the runway centreline, and two numbers painted at each end will show the magnetic direction of the runway to the nearest 10 degrees.

The Airfield Controller works from a glass control cabin at the top of the Control Tower giving a clear view of the airfield, while the Approach Controller operates from another part of the Tower assisted by radio and radar equipment.  In some instances the Ground Controller occupies a caravan sited to the left of the touch-down of the runway being used.  The caravan, painted in red and white checks bears the elevation of the airfield above sea level in black figures on its side.  A white letter ‘T' is displayed close by and indicates the landing direction being used.

Airfield Definitions

When talking about airfields certain terms are used which it is important are known and kept clear in the mind.  Here are the most important.

An Airfield is the term used to refer to an area of land used for the take-off and landing of aircraft, excluding buildings and installations.

An Aerodrome is a defined area of land or water, including buildings and installations, used for the take-off and landing of aircraft.

An Airport is an aerodrome which may handle scheduled air traffic and often has Customs and other travel facilities.

Runway - The area of the airfield used for take-off and landing.  Not every runway has a tarmac surface; grass is often used for gliders and light aircraft.

Perimeter track - The roadway around the outside of most military and some civil airfields.  This is sometimes used as an air¬craft taxiway.

Control tower - The air traffic control centre of an airfield marked on the outside by a yellow board showing a black ‘C’. If no air traffic control exists, get in touch with the senior instructor or member available.

Signal square -A square marked on the ground, usually near the control tower, containing details of operations and facilities at that airfield.

Hangar - A large 'shed' in which aircraft are kept.

Taxi-ways - Grass or tarmac route between operational areas.

Apron - Outside parking for aircraft when not in use.

Runway headings - The direction of the runway expressed in terms of degrees, to the nearest ten degrees without the final nought, e.g. an east-west runway would be 'runway 27' and have the figures ‘27’ marked on the eastern threshold; a west-east runway would be ‘runway 09’ and have the figures '09’ near the western threshold, so as to be visible to an approaching aircraft.

Cable dropping areas - The area where a glider and paragliding or parascending launching cable will fall to earth after being jettisoned by the glider at, or near the top of, its climb.  This could be a wide area, not necessarily just over the runway strip.

Tow ropes - A length of nylon rope trailing from a light aircraft or winch which is used to tow a glider into the air.  The pilot will either decide to land with this rope attached or will jettison it during a 'dummy’ approach prior to landing.  In either case the rope can be dangerous as it is not easily visible and has a heavy metal ring at the free end.

Airfield hazards

An airfield is a potentially dangerous place.  Before visiting you must be aware of all the dangers and hazards.

Staying Safe on an Airfield