Are You On the Correct Runway?

Taking off on the wrong runway can have serious consequences. This one pilot error can lead to runway incursions, FAA violations, and even fatal accidents. Pilots can greatly improve their chances of getting it right by adding one simple step to their takeoff clearance.

The procedure comes in three simple steps: verify, verify, and verify!

  1. Verify that you are cleared for takeoff. Make sure that a takeoff clearance was given and read back if operating at a controlled airport.
  2. Verify the runway number on the pavement. Taking off on Runway 32 means there had better be a 32 out the window!
  3. Verify runway heading is displayed in the compass and DG. This is a great chance to catch any last minute gyroscopic precession errors.

I do each of these steps as a flow. Suppose you are holding short and receive the following clearance:

“Piper 12345, clear for takeoff Runway 27.”

As you read back the clearance, be sure to verify, verify, verify:

“Cleared for takeoff… “ // We’ve got step one down!
“…Runway 27…” // Glance at the runway numbers and/or hold-short sign and verify that this is in fact Runway 27.
“…Piper 12345.” // As you roll onto the runway centerline, make sure the DG and compass agree with the runway heading (270º in this case).

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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

6 Replies to Are You On the Correct Runway?

  1. Jeffrey says:

    Good points Pat! Things that have gotten me in trouble is not controlling the tempo and letting ATC rush me. When that happens, bad things can happen. A few things I’ve started to do are:

    1. Sit with my hands in my lap while I’m getting the clearance…if I’m not moving, of course.
    2. When my FO repeats the clearance back to ATC, after he is done, I read back the clearance to him.
    3. Slow waaaaayyyyy down

    Keep up the good work!


  2. It’s so easy to get rushed, especially when ATC and company issues are involved. Sometimes it pays to just take a little breather.

  3. Sylvia says:

    I always do 1 and 3 but looking at the pavement makes a lot of sense!

  4. Dudley Johnston says:

    Setting the heading bug to the runway heading and checking it as I line up saved me from taking off on the wrong runway at Gander in poor visibility back in the ’70’s.

  5. av8erPrince says:

    And I guess something similar can be used to avoid landing on the wrong runway as well.

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