The Fives: Following The Signs

Have you ever stared out the window of your plane while it’s taxiing to the runway and wondered what in the world all those signs and lines mean out on the airfield? In today’s edition of The Fives, we’re showing you five signs and pavement markings that you’re likely to see.

_DSC0622Stay Between the Lines. Having miles of asphalt and concrete doesn’t give the drivers of airport vehicles license to drive wherever they want. Out on the airfield there are many types of vehicles going in every direction. While drivers may veer off to reach a specific destination, they must keep
within the lines at all other times. By the way, there’s a strict speed limit for everyone’s safety and yes, it’s enforced by RDU Police and Airport Operations.

_DSC0625Lead-In Line. Think of the lead in line as an oversized parking line. But, unlike the ones at the local grocery store, you actually want to be on this one.  When an aircraft leaves the taxiway, the airline worker who carries the batons guides the plane in on the lead-in line. This allows the plane to be in the right position to connect to the jetbridge. Often, you’ll see more than one at a gate as different lines are marked for different sized aircraft.

_DSC0628Taxiway Signs. How’s this for an intersection? As you probably know, taxiways connect the runways with the ramp area at the terminals and other locations around the airfield. When taxiways intersect, you’ll see this kind of sign. The black panel shows where you are. The yellow panels inform of the taxiway that’s ahead of you.  That solid /dashed line combination on the right? That’s the movement line, which indicates the limit of where you can drive without contacting the air traffic control tower.

_DSC0631Runway Signs.  Like the taxiway signs, runway signs tell you that a.) you’re about to enter a runway and b.) which runway you’re at.  Unlike the taxiway signs, runway signs are always red with white numbers and/or letters. The panel on the left tells you where you’re currently located.


_DSC0610Distance To Go.  And, one you’re not likely to see, but your pilot will. These small numbered signs are called distance-to-go signs and they show how many feet are left until the end of the runway. Here the number 6 represents that there is 6,000 more feet of runway to go—a comfortable distance remaining for take-offs.

Do you have an idea for something you’d like to see in a future edition of The Fives? Let me know in the comments below.

About Andrew Sawyer

Andrew Sawyer is the External Communication Specialist for the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority and is the main writer for RDU’s website, electronic communication and airport publications. He’s also the primary face behind RDU’s social media channels. Andrew also assists with many other things, from media relations to event planning. In fact, he has an advanced degree in "other duties as assigned."
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7 Responses to The Fives: Following The Signs

  1. Jon R says:

    How about a feature on Air Traffic Control at RDU!

  2. You did forget one thing on the runway signs: The number designates the degrees on a compass divided by 10, so “5R” is basically northeast (50 degrees) and “23L” is basically southwest (230 degrees).

  3. Justin says:

    How about the yellow flashing lights at the entrance to the runway?

  4. I wonder if you could do an article about “near misses” and the definition of same. My friend and I were on a flight at about 30K feet a couple of years ago when out the window we saw another jet approaching from an angle. It flew very close and passed underneath. I’m sure our pilots were unaware. We could almost read the tail numbers! When recently mentioning it to another friend, he related a similar incident! How often do these things happen? What should a passenger do when observing such an incident? – W. Edwards

    • Ian says:

      I’m 100% sure your pilots were aware of it. Either through the TCAS in the flight deck or through ATC telling them about it. You’re only required to have 2,000ft vertical separation in many conditions, which at cruising altitude can seem like a very short distance.

  5. THOMAZO says:

    Hi everybody, I’m currently working on signs in a french business airport. Often, pilots miss a holding position point and cross the runway without clearence. There is already a “Runway ahead” mark to insist on that point. By the way, I’d like to add a panel with a “flashing” message such as “runway ahead” close to the holding position panels. Do you think it is possible and could be correct regarding new EASA/FAA regulation? Thank you in advance for your answer.

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