I learned to fly at Santa Monica Airport (KSMO), which has one runway, 3-21. So, as a budding pilot, any time I would go to an airport with multiple runways such as Van Nuys (KVNY), which has two parallel runways or Long Beach (KLGB), which has five intersecting runways, there were some extra thinking and planning required prior to taking off.
If you’re flying into an airport with parallel runways it’s clearly important to stay out of the flight path of the other runway or runways. Therefore, you need to be extra aware of your position in the pattern. You may want to cut the base leg a bit short to avoid overshooting the final leg and intersecting the approach path for a parallel runway. There is simply very little room for error and it’s better to stay on the safe side.
You also need to be aware of wake turbulence if you’re approaching or taking off behind an airplane that is using the parallel runway. This is particularly important if there is a slight crosswind blowing from the direction of the parallel runway toward the runway you’re using. Since the wake turbulence settles, make sure you stay well above the other aircraft’s path of travel.
At airports with intersecting runways, you may have LAHSO (land and hold short operations) to contend with. The ATIS will announce that LAHSO are in effect and the tower controller may clear you to land and hold short of a certain point along the runway, such as an intersecting runway or taxiway, or some other clearly identified point.
Some airports, such as Long Beach, have published LAHSO. A special section of the A/FD contains information on the hold short points at certain runways and the available landing distance if LAHSO are in effect. Participation in LAHSO is not mandatory, so you can actually reject the clearance if you don’t feel comfortable with the remaining available runway distance. But rejecting a LAHSO clearance will complicate the operations at the field and create unnecessary delays for other airplanes. You’re best off doing your homework, knowing what to expect as far as available landing distances and working with the controllers.
It is also important to listen extra carefully to the controllers. Listen not only to the controllers communications with you, but be aware of where the other airplanes are in the pattern and what runways they are planning on using.
But the most important thing to ensure is that you line yourself up for the right runway. This may seem like a silly reminder, but even experienced airline pilots make the mistake of taxiing onto the wrong runway, as was the case with the Comair Flight 5191, which crashed during the takeoff roll out of the Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Kentucky. The pilots attempted to take off from runway 26, which is 3,000 feet shorter than the intended runway 22.
In addition to possibly using a runway that is insufficient in length, you may get in the way of other airplanes taking off or landing if you use the wrong runway. So while paying attention to which runway you’re using may seem basic, it is a consideration that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Whether you’re familiar with airports with multiple runways or not, it’s worth spending a few extra minutes prior to your flight to prepare you. Multiple runways present additional hazards, but adequate preparation will lower the risk of anything unexpected happening.