Unit 6 Airports

Also known as: Aerodromes, airfields, landing strips

Definition: An area of land that provides for the taking off, landing, and surface maneuvering of aircraft.

Significance: Although airports mark the beginning and ending points of aircraft flights, they are more than mere runways or grass areas for takeoffs and landings. Airports are facilities that provide for the maintenance and servicing of aircraft, serve as exchange points for passengers and cargo, and host the various navigational aids used by pilots to guide an aircraft in flight.

Nature and Use

An airport is defined by the type of aircraft it serves and by where it is located. Airports range in size from large commercial air carrier airports, such as Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, with more than 30 million passengers per year, to small, privately owned grass landing strips in rural areas with landings of only a few small aircraft each year. In the United States, there are about 15,000 airport landing facilities, only 5,000 of which are open to the public. Even fewer, about 3,000, are served by commercial air carrier service. The other airports are small, general aviation airports in private or public ownership.

Types of Airports

Although airports may be classified in a number of different ways, the broadest categories are general aviation and commercial service airports. General aviation airports are those that do not receive regularly scheduled passenger service but rather have a primary purpose of serving the aviation interests and needs of small or outlying communities. General aviation includes such activities as corporate and business transportation, recreational flying, aircraft instruction and rental, aerial observation, skydiving activities, and other special uses.

Landing Facilities

An airport’s landing facilities generally consist of a runway or landing strip along with related taxiways and parking areas. A runway is a graded or paved area suitable for the taking off or landing of aircraft. Although most runways in developed nations serving small to large commercial aircraft are paved, there are still many airports that are either grass or dirt strips. These types of landing strips usually serve small piston- or turbine-engine aircraft in rural or undeveloped areas of a country or in developing nations.


In the early days of aviation, dirt and grass runways were the norm. They tended to be wide open field areas that allowed pilots to take off and land in whichever direction the wind was blowing. This is because aircraft weighed relatively little and needed only a short distance to take off. As aircraft and pavement technology developed and the weight of aircraft increased, the need for longer and stronger runway surfaces emerged. The previously open fields were soon developed into graded areas oriented in the direction of the prevailing winds. These graded areas were then paved. If strong winds occasionally blew from a direction different to that of the paved runway, crosswind runways might also be graded and paved. Aircraft are designed to land into the wind. When winds blow from a different direction than the orientation of the primary runway, some aircraft are unable to handle the side forces of the wind when landing or taking off. A secondary crosswind runway built to accommodate the occasional crosswind is then used instead of the primary runway.