Flying the heavies airport info

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Hello all, with all this worldwide flight activity the last few weeks, with the beautiful Queen, especially,  does anyone know how to get a list of airports that can handle the heavies?  I do most of my flying in NA and Europe and would love to generate random flights knowing in advance that the airports can accommodate the big guys. 

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I've never seen a list of airports with runways greater than 5000/7000 ft, although I'm sure it must exist somewhere.  I can tell you that in the PMDG 777 and 747V3 there is a setting that will only allow airports with runways greater than a certain length (I believe it's 5000 feet) to display on the Navigation Display (not sure if it also affects which airports can be entered into the FMS).  I'm not 100% sure, but I believe FSX itself can also do this (I have no idea if this is capable in P3D but I would assume so if FSX does).

I suppose it's important to say that runway length is only one parameter for whether or not it is acceptable to land a large/heavy aircraft.  Runways are also rated for how much weight than can carry - this is important in order to prevent damage to the runway, the aircraft in question, and other aircraft.  Also, one wouldn't want to impact airport operations by having taken out a runway or taxiway.  Airport charts provide this information as well as information on the surface type of runways/taxiways.

I hope this has been helpful.

Best wishes.


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All aeroplanes are given a 2 digit Aerodrome Reference Code, the first part is a number (from 1 to 4) which relates to its Reference Field Length (i.e. how much runway it needs), the second bit is a letter (from A to F), which is how big its wingspan is and how wide its main gear is. Thus when it comes to airports, you can tell whether they can handle a particular aircraft based on this same system since an airport will be given (in addition to its four digit ICAO identifier) that code letter too (most big airports around the world will be E, which means they can handle a 747-400, but not necessarily a 747 8 or an A380, since those are class F aircraft). If you want to check all of that info out, do a search for: ICAO Annex 14, which is the document that relates to all that stuff.

In the case of the 747-400, code is 4E because of these two specifics:

It needs more than 1800 metres of runway and it has a wingspan of greater than 52m (170.6'), but less than 65m (213.3'). And it has a span between the main landing gear bogies of greater than 9m (29.5'), but less than 14m (45.9').

Most of the time you will only see the second digit of that code system being used, because it's pretty apparent that something with a wingspan of 52 metres is not going to be taking off or landing at an airport very obviously with less than 1800 metres of tarmac lol.

But, to confuse matters further, there is also another system in use (primarily in the US), which is the Aircraft Design Group reference code. This system classes aeroplanes by a Roman Numeral (from I to VI), I being small stuff like Cessnas etc, VI being big stuff including the Boeing 747-400. This system uses two dimensions, the wingspan, and the tail height, so in the case of Class VI aircraft, if its wingspan is bigger than 65m (214'), but less than 80m (262'), and its tail height bigger than 20.1m (66'), but less than 24.4m (80'), then it is a class VI aircraft.

As you can see, the Aircraft Design Group Code and the ICAO Aerodrome Reference Codes for the 747-400 are very similar, so whichever one you see assigned to an airport (either VI or E), will mean your Jumbo can land and take off from there and park up etc.

Beyond mere runway length, the class an airport is given also takes into account things like the ground pressure footprint of an aircraft, turn radius of taxiways, clearances between buildings, suitable emergency services, servicing facilities etc. This is because a taxiway might indeed be wide enough for a 747, but you need to be sure the paving or tarmac can take the weight of one without the surface being damaged, since bits of cracked or broken surface could be ingested into an engine or burst the tire of an aeroplane, and you need to be sure that if your 747 has to be evacuated, that there are enough emergency services at the airport to be able to handle such an incident. Most of the time you can be sure that if someone has gone to the trouble of designing an airport with a 10,000 foot long runway, they will have also considered that 747s will be using it, so the taxiways will be of a suitable radius in the turns and capable of handling the weight of a 747 at MTOW, but if you like realism, then you should endeavour to use the proper taxiway route that ATC give to you, as it is often related to making sure you don't go over a taxiway which is not of load bearing strength for your particular aircraft if it is a heavy. Just because a taxiway looks big enough doesn't mean it can take the weight. If you are curious about all that stuff, every airport publishes a Aerodrome Guide Handbook, which lists all that stuff and a lot of other useful information too, such as noise abatements rules, terrain clearances, SIDS and STARS, de-icing facilities avaialble etc, etc, and these days, most of them can be found online as a PDF so unlike a few years ago, you don't have to buy them, which was always a pain in the &@($*, since they go out of date every so often, and it could get expensive!

Keep in mind however, that depending on how high the airport is above sea level, or what runway surface there is, can also matter, for example, Mexico City is over 7,000 feet above sea level, so you really are gonna need most of their 13,000 feet of runway to get your Jumbo off that sucker on a hot day with a high TOW. Similarly, there are one or two airports in the Antarctic which have big long runways, but their surface is hard packed ice, and you're not gonna want to try landing your Jumbo on those even though theoretically the runway is long enough. This is why all those big Russkie transport planes you see, have loads of wheels, it is so they can have a low tire presure which allows the tire to spread the tread out when there is weight on the wheels on an icy runway. It's also why you see a lot of Russian airports with PSP matting or a grooved runway surface (for example, Archangel).

The other code the ICAO give aircraft incidentally, is the wake turbulence designator, L, M or H (Light, Medium or Heavy), so that ATC know what separation to give you on finals or when departing soon after another aircraft has just taken off. Normally that is based on size, weight etc, but there are one or two aircraft which are known to cause a lot more wake turbulence than their size and weight might suggest, so they get an H classification because of that, notably the Boeing 757 is such an aircraft. This can actually have a bearing in FS if you use things like Active Sky and Accufeel, since they do simulate wake turbulence, and if you are taking your 747 into an airport in FS and use those add-ons, AI will also be sending 747s there too, it's not funny going through the wake turbulence of an aeroplane either in FS or in real life - I did that once for real when flying an SZD-50... a pair of RAF Harrier fighter planes came past me at about 500 knots; when I flew through their wake turblence, my aircraft rolled through about 120 degrees and stalled when it was inverted, then went into a spin; fortunately, the SZD-50 is easy to get out of a spin and you don't lose too much height when doing that. I don't think those Harrier pilots even saw my aircraft, or if they did, then it was too late for them to avoid me, but I did issue some colourful language at them lol.

So anyway, the short version of all this stuff is, do a search for ICAO class E airports and you will know they can handle your 747.

Happy landings. :biggrin:


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Hey thanks Alan! Learning something new everyday.

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Pete Dowson's useful utility MakeRwys.exe creates a whole bunch of output files and one of which is runways.csv. This  comma separated file will open natively with Microsoft Excel. Sort the file by Column G (runway length) and Column A (airport ICAO code) and one can find all the airports with runways over a certain length. This file is more useful than any found online for real airports, since the lengths match whatever is active in P3d/ FSX. It includes both addon and default airports (where no addon airport exists).

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