America’s Longest Runways

FLYING tracks down the facts surrounding some of the longest runways in the United States, and beyond.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of special series spotlighting runwaysApril 18: America’s Longest Runways | America’s Shortest Runways | April 19: 11 Fun Facts About Runways | April 20: Self-healing Concrete and How It Can Save Runways | April 21: FLYING Explained: How Do You Read Airport Markings and Signage | Runway History | April 22: Remembering Meigs Field

Whether they’re stretching out like welcoming arms to greet pilots on final approach, or pointing the way to an initial flight path, America’s longest runways serve as true unsung heroes of aviation. 

Sometimes measuring more than three statute miles (sm) from end to end, these precisely constructed, carefully maintained, and under-appreciated ribbons of infrastructure are located at civilian and military airports across the United States, including New York, Colorado, and California. Outside the U.S., other extremely lengthy runways can also be found in far-flung places like South Africa, Brazil, and China.

Let’s break down a few details surrounding these highways to—and from—the skies.

Airport authorities build extremely long runways for multiple reasons, including to mitigate effects of high density altitude, and to accommodate extremely heavy long-haul passenger jets and cargo transports. Ideally, when designing runways, engineers will take into account prevailing directions for headwinds, tailwinds, and crosswinds, average temperatures, elevation, surrounding terrain, and the maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of aircraft that are authorized to use the runway. 

Typically, these runways cost tens of millions of dollars to plan, design, build, and maintain. Their function: providing consistent, reliable takeoff and landing surfaces in all kinds of weather for billions of pilots and passengers. 

Below is a list of some of the longest civilian, military, and non-U.S. runways, along with a few facts that set them apart.

Longest U.S. Civil Aviation Runways

Denver International Airport (KDEN)

Serving: Denver, Colorado
Elevation AMSL: 5,434 feet
Longest Runway: 16R-34L
Dimensions: 16,000 feet by 200 feet
Fun fact: Authorities plan to build a seventh runway at KDEN—estimated cost: more than $1.2 billion. It’s expected to enter service as soon as 2028.

Southern California Logistics Airport (KVCV)

Serving: Victorville, California 
Elevation AMSL: 2,885 feet
Longest runway: 17/35
Dimensions: 15,050 feet by 150 feet
Fun fact: The former George U.S. Air Force Base now designated as KVCV has become a well-known airline storage facility for major airlines.

Harry Reid International Airport (KLAS)

Serving: Las Vegas, Nevada
Elevation AMSL: 2,181 feet
Longest runway: 8L/26R
Dimensions: 14,515 feet  by 150 feet 
Fun facts: Formerly known as McCarran International Airport until 2021. Also, the Earth’s gradually shifting magnetic pole prompted the FAA to redesignate KLAS runways 7L/25R and 7R/25L to 8L/26R and 8R/26L in 2017—runways are periodically renamed to accommodate for this phenomena.

John F. Kennedy International Airport (KJFK)

Serving: New York City 
Elevation AMSL: 13 feet
Longest runway: 13R-31L
Dimensions: 14,511 feet by 200 feet 
Fun fact: The runway layout includes two pairs of parallel runways aligned at right angles. The distance of all runways at KJFK totals nearly 9 sm.

U.S. Military, Non-Public Runways 

Edwards Air Force Base (KEDW)

Location: California 
Longest runway: 05R/23L
Dimensions: 15,024 feet by 300 feet
Fun fact: The main concrete runway at Edwards is located next to Rogers Dry Lake. The 15,024-foot length of the runway with the 9,000 foot lakebed overrun “gives pilots with an inflight emergency one of the longest and safest runways in the world,” according to NASA.

Shuttle Landing Facility (KTTS)

Location: Kennedy Space Center, Florida 
Elevation AMSL: 8.5 feet
Longest runway: 15/33
Dimensions: 15,001 feet by 300 feet
Fun fact: In addition to its 15,001-foot length, the runway has a 1,000-foot overrun on each end, according to NASA. It’s nearly as wide as the length of an NFL football field and its concrete surface is 16 inches thick. For drainage, the runway has a 24-inch slope from the centerline to the edges. 

Details about NASA’s Space Shuttle re-entries and landings.  [Courtesy: NASA]

Vandenberg Space Force Base (KVBG)

Location: California
Elevation AMSL: 368 feet 
Longest runway: 12/30
Dimensions: 15,000 feet by 200 feet 
Fun fact:  KVBG maintains the second largest airfield runway in the Department of Defense, according to its website.

Eielson Air Force Base (PAEI)

Location: Alaska
Elevation AMSL: 548 feet
Longest runway: 14/32
Dimensions: 14,530 feet by 150 feet
Fun fact: Clearing an inch of snowfall off the main runway at KEDW involves moving 495,000 pounds of snow.

Naval Air Station Fallon (KNFL)

Location: Nevada
Elevation AMSL: 3,935 feet
Longest runway: 13R/31L
Dimensions: 14,001 feet by 201 feet
Fun fact: The facility boasts the longest airport runway in the U.S. Navy, according to its website.

How Are Runways Designed?

Extremely Long Runways Outside the United States

Shigatse Peace Airport (ZURK)

Serving: Shigatse, Tibet Autonomous Region, China
Elevation AMSL: 12,408 feet
Longest runway: 09/27
Length: 16,404 feet
Fun fact: One of the highest-elevation airfields in the world.

Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport (UWLW)

Serving: Ulyanovsk, Russia, and nearby aircraft manufacturers
Elevation AMSL: 253 feet
Longest runway: 02/20
Length: 16,404 feet 

Fun fact: Built in the 1980s as an alternative landing site for the Soviet space shuttle and to support test flights out of the nearby Aviastar aircraft factory.

Embraer Unidade Gaviao Peixoto Airport (SBGP)

Serving: Gavião Peixoto, São Paulo, Brazil 
Elevation AMSL: 1,978 feet
Longest runway: 02/20
Length: 16,295 feet
Fun fact: Owned and operated by Brazilian aerospace manufacturer Embraer as an aircraft testing site, it includes the longest runway in the Americas.

Upington Airport (FAUP)

Serving: Upington, Northern Cape, South Africa 
Elevation AMSL:  2,791 feet
Longest runway: 17/35
Length: 16,076 feet
Fun fact:  Runway 17/35, the longest civilian runway in the southern hemisphere, was built during a six-month period in 1976 to accommodate Boeing 747s, according to the airport website.

Hamad International Airport (OTHH)

Serving: Doha
Elevation AMSL: 13 feet
Longest runway: 16L/34R
Length: 15,912 feet
Fun fact:  Much of the airport property includes reclaimed land from the Persian Gulf.

Considering their critical importance and extreme wear and tear, runways rank high among aviation’s unsung infrastructure heroes. [Courtesy: Denver International Airport]

Runway Identification

Typically, each runway is assigned a number on either end that corresponds to the direction of the runway’s centerline. The numbers indicate the centerline’s nearest 10-degree increment of the magnetic azimuth, according to the FAA. For example, if the magnetic azimuth is 173 degrees, the runway designation would be 17. The opposite end of Runway 17 would be designated 35—the magnetic azimuth pointing in the opposite direction. For a runway with a magnetic azimuth of 67 degrees, its designation would be 7. However, if a magnetic azimuth ends in the number 5—such as 285—that runway’s designation could be either 28 or 29.

Runway Costs

More than half of all funds for the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program are required to construct or rehabilitate U.S. runways, taxiways, and aprons, according to the agency. Construction standards for runway surfaces are intended to ensure pavements are built to last, with as little maintenance as possible.

Here are a few interesting facts surrounding the construction and operation of runways. 

Materials

As you might expect, the primary materials for airport runway construction are concrete and asphalt. 

Runway and Taxiway Construction Cost

The cost of constructing a runway with a width of 20 to 30 meters (65.6 to 98.4 feet) is estimated somewhere between $4,400 and $7,200 per meter of length, according to the International Energy Agency. The cost of building taxiways is significantly less, the IEA says, because of lower performance requirements.

The Cost of Lighting

According to the IEA, a 2002 study estimated that runway lighting systems consumed significant energy at U.S. airports. If you consider one gigawatt hour is enough energy to power about 750,000 homes, here is a list of estimated energy consumption by types of runway lights:

  • Touchdown lights: 160 GWh/year
  • Edge lights:  140 GWh/year
  • Center-line lights: 120 GWh/year
  • Approach lights: 57 GWh/ year

The United States boasts more airports than any other country in the world: 5,000-plus public facilities and more than 14,500 that are privately owned. Keeping them safe and operational is a key pillar of the entire aviation industry, no matter how long or short they are. Because, for pilots, the most important runway in the world is the one they’re about to use.

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