Traffic flow, safety & efficiency: The role line markings play in airport management

Plane on runway with line markings

When it comes to the aviation industry, most airports worldwide use similar lines and signs across their taxiways and runways.

Airports can be complicated places. They’re usually flat pieces of land with no easy way to identify visual landmarks. There’s no standard layout across the airport, and if you have seen one runway, you haven’t seen them all.

Pilots visiting unfamiliar airports are at a considerable disadvantage, especially if the visibility is low or the weather is bad. When it comes to navigating safely around the airport taxi lanes and runways, airport markings and signs are standardised worldwide.

 Plane on a runway

Runway & Sign Markings

There are around six different types of runway markings that are designed to be visual for a pilot. The first thing to realise is that runway markings are always white. Everything else on the surface of the airport, like taxiways and ramps, are painted yellow.

Runway Thresholds

These line markings are across the runway, denoting the beginning and end of the designed space for landing and takeoff under non-emergency conditions. They also denote the width of the runway- i.e. 8 stripes is for a 100ft wide runway, 12 for 150ft wide

Runway Touchdown Zone Markers

The touchdown zone markings identify the touchdown zone for landing operations, and are coded to provide distance information in 500 feet. These consist of groups of one, two or three rectangular bars about the runway centerline.

Runway Centrelines 

The centre marking on a runway is used as a visual aid for the pilot to align the aircraft correctly during takeoff and landings. It is also used to determine the landing point and how far the plane is down the runway.

Aiming Point Markers 

On runways, the aiming points are a perfect target to descend towards when landing aircraft. These are generally two solid painted rectangles on either side of the centre line.

Displaced Thresholds

These markings are located at points for takeoff but not for landing. Landing aircraft can use the displaced portion of the runway for rollout.

Runway Designators Markings

These consist of a two-digit number painted on the surface that indicates the universally recognised compass bearings. When there are parallel runways, there will be a letter after the number which identifies which runway is which: L for left, R for right and C for centre.

Taxiway Markings

Holding Position Markings

These consist of four yellow lines, two solid and two dashed  which go across the width of the crossing. These are typically displaced at an approach or departure area of a runway.

Centre Line 

The centre line of a taxiway consists of a solid yellow line 150-300mm width and on the edge of the taxiway a continuous double yellow, with each line being at least 150mm in width spaced 150mm apart

Taxi Shoulder Markings

These markings identify the edge of the taxiway to indicate surface is unusable for aircraft traffic.

The benefits of effective line marking in airport management:

Effective line marking  ensures best efficiency and safety for aircraft and airport operators to best passenger experience.

The lines must be bright, bold and long-lasting so that they are extremely visible day or night, and convey the vital information needed to navigate around the airfield safely.

Pilots navigating airfields are tasked with safely transporting passengers in an environment where a catastrophic error is potentially only seconds away.

Even for the experienced pilot, signage significance and runway markings can be confusing; and, despite regulated uniformity at airports across the world, there are still differences. Pilots are human and not exempt from error.

What is the best paint to use for airport markings?

When it comes to runway and taxiway line markings, the markings themselves need to attain high visibility. Choosing the correct paint for airport markings is crucial; removing any risk of FOD (foreign object debris) creation has an important part to play.

Whilst paint applications are designed to adhere and stay for the duration of their service life, there is a risk of delamination due to factors such as ground movement and conditions etc.

If a thick line coating system like thermoplastic has been applied, there is a risk that if it delaminates, it becomes a FOD (foreign object debris) risk.

The ideal suited paints are ‘thin coat’ and single component acrylics or Epoxies. Spectrum TrafficLine X410 is widely used as this is an epoxy ester solvent-based product.

Another option is Spectrum ViaLine F217, which has been specifically designed for use on airfields. ViaLine has a very fast drying time, low solvency and excellent opacity and this is an acrylic solvent-based product.

Alternative thin coat systems include Spectrum VersaLine W211, which is a water-based acrylic and offers environmental advantages. However, conditions must be suitable to accommodate the longer cure time for this product.

For an even more improved performance, spray MMA technology is being considered MMA is a 2 component product with rapid cure times and very high durability.

Enhancing the markings can be done using the specialist airport grade High Index Reflective Beads for safety critical areas.

 new runway markings

What is the best machine to use for airport markings?

When it comes to product or paint application for runway markings and taxiway markings, the best and easiest way to apply this is by machine and most definitely not by hand. (Unless you want to be on the project a long time!)

Our line marking machine supplier, Graco, recommend the following. ‘For the marking of airport runways airless spray technology is the recommend pump system to acquire the best results and an efficient application. An engine-propelled line striper is critical for larger projects to reduce fatigue and increase comfort. Systems with pressurized bead dispensers are needed for the application of retroreflective markings.

We also recommend machines with automatic skip line control and the ability to spray two colours and capacity to apply lines at over 900mm wide in one pass,making Graco machines our favourite range of machines for airport markings.

If there is anything we haven’t covered, or you have a particular question on airport line marking or surface repair, then contact us today.