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The Shifting Magnetic North Pole & Runway Renumbering at YVR

What does the magnetic north pole have to do with runways at YVR?

Well, runways at YVR and other airports are numbered according to their magnetic heading to the closest 10 degrees. For example, Runway 26 at YVR is numbered 26 because it lines up with 260 degrees magnetic. But because the magnetic north pole is slowly moving (this movement is part of the earth's natural process, no Michael Bay action movies to be made here!), every 60 or 70 years runways have to be given new designations to meet regulations.

Which brings us to our newly named crosswind runway. The crosswind runway is used when gusts from north to south or vice versa make it safer to land when flying east/west. The crosswind runway had been numbered 12/30 since it was first built and as recently as 2011 it was located at 124°25’/304°25’.

The magnetic heading today is 125°01’/305°01’, which means the runway is now closer to 130º/310º  than 120º /300º and had to be changed to 13/31. This required no small amount of effort from Vancouver Airport Authority employees. Maps, signs, publications and paint all have to be changed to reflect this new numbering and make sure everybody is on the same page. But as you can see in the picture above and below, we are on it!

So don't worry, the runway itself isn't moving, we are just renumbering/renaming it to be more accurate and meet Transport Canada and industry requirements. Magnetic fields, the north pole, safety – all part of what makes airports one of the most interesting places!

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4 Comments

  • Juan Caros wrote on Jul 25 2014 AT 4:45 PM

    I'd actually always wondered how long it took for runways to drift enough to need re-numbering. Thank you for answering that.

    ... which leads to a follow-up questions... how far away are we from needing to renumber 8/26 L&R? ? And it might be a silly question, but do both L & R get renumbered at the same time? If they're perfectly parallel, the answer would be yes... but are they? If they're off by a tiny bit (due to ground shift?!) would you wait to do them both at once?
  • YVR Airport wrote on Jul 29 2014 AT 11:22 AM

    Thanks for reading Juan!

    We are looking in to your question and will contact you via email with an answer soon, which we will also post here.
  • Gordon Boleen wrote on Aug 05 2014 AT 3:07 PM

    Would you publish your answer to Juan so all of us can see it?
    Thanks!
  • Juan Carlos wrote on Aug 30 2014 AT 5:31 PM

    I'm actually still interested in hearing the answer to this...
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