A runway is a strip which is designed for take-offs and landings.
They are numbered according to their magnetic heading, rounded off to the closest 10 degrees. In the picture above, the runway is numbered "09" because from that side, it is heading somewhere in between 085º and 094º. On the other end it is numbered "27", because from that side it is heading somewhere in between 265º and 274º. Therefore, a runway pointing north would be numbered "36", and so on...
If there is more than one runway heading towards a certain direction in an airport, then the suffixes "L", "C" and "R" are added, depending if it's the one to the left, the one at the center (if there is 3) or the one to the right, respectively.
Interesting fact: In some countries, even if the runway should be named 02/20 or 13/31, different numbers are used, as they can be easily mistaken by reversing the figures.
A traffic circuit is like a track round an aerodrome, where each different part has a name. It is normally used for visual approaches and when pilots want to perform touch and go's or low passes over an airport. The 'default' circuit is the left-hand circuit. If not stated otherwise by the active ATC, this is the one you shall follow, but you'll be better off asking.
As can be seen on the image, a left-hand circuit for a certain runway goes towards the same side as a right-hand circuit for the opposite one.
Different parts on a traffic pattern:
- Upwind leg: Leg inmediately following takeoff which is flown on runway heading.
- Crosswind leg: Following upwind and perpendicular to runway heading, ends when reaching the pattern altitude.
- Downwind leg: Once traffic pattern altitude is reached, the pilot turns onto this leg. It is parallel to the runway heading, but on the opposite direction than that expected for your landing. It is like "going backwards" until the perfect spot to get yourself aligned with the runway with only two more turns is reached.
- Base leg: Once the aircraft is far enough back to be able to land safely, the pilot turns to a heading perpendicular to that of the runway, in order to get closer. It is a leg during which the aircraft is constantly descending.
- Final leg: Once the pilot is close enough to the runway heading, it veers onto this leg. It is the last leg of the circuit and thus, must be parallel to the runway heading, During this leg the pilot is constantly making adjustment to airspeed and height, in order to ensure a safe and successful manouver at the touchdown zone.
Traffic Pattern Altitude
Generally, the standard traffic pattern altitude for general aviation aircraft is of 1000ft above ground level (AGL). For turbojets, it is 1500ft AGL. Nonetheless, this may (and will) vary from airport to airport and just as always, it is better to be safe than sorry, so ask the online controller and have a look at the charts!
Content updated: 13. July 2018.