Aviation

Earth’s magnetic field shift will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars at airport

A Bombardier Global 7000 business jet lands on runway 1L-19R at Wichita Eisenhower National Airport in November 2016. Earth’s shifting magnetic poles are prompting FAA and airport officials to renumber Eisenhower’s three runways.
A Bombardier Global 7000 business jet lands on runway 1L-19R at Wichita Eisenhower National Airport in November 2016. Earth’s shifting magnetic poles are prompting FAA and airport officials to renumber Eisenhower’s three runways. The Wichita Eagle

For the first time in its nearly 64-year history, Wichita Eisenhower National Airport’s runways will be renumbered.

That’s because of the slow but constant shift in the Earth’s magnetic poles, which has altered the compass headings pilots use to fly in and out of the state’s largest commercial airport.

Airport officials told members of the Wichita Airport Advisory Board this week that because of magnetic variation, the compass headings of Eisenhower’s three runways have shifted six degrees, prompting the airport to plan to re-number its two primary and one crosswind runways.

Since the airport was first built in 1954, the compass points for its longest runway, the west-side runway, measured about 10 degrees when flying to the airport from the south and 190 degrees from the north. That’s why it’s designated 1L-19R, or 1 Left-19 Right. Because of the magnetic shift, that runway would become 2L-20R.

Likewise, the east-side runway would be renumbered to 2R-20L while the cross-wind runway, now numbered 14-32, would become 15-33.

Every five years the Federal Aviation Administration “conducts evaluations of magnetic variation and assigns the values that are to be used in designating runways,” according to a document on its website. A shift of magnetic variation greater than 3 degrees prompts the FAA to make changes to published airport approaches, and to advise airports to make the changes on their property.

Over the past few years, a number of airports across the country have had to renumber their runways, including in Oakland, Calif.; Las Vegas; and Tampa, Fla.

Eisenhower officials said the changes would likely cost the airport “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

That’s not just for paint on the runways, either.

“Most of the physical costs would be airfield directional signage,” said Brad Christopher, assistant director of airports for the airport authority. “Almost all of those would have to be replaced.” He said those large, lighted signs that sit on various points of the airport’s taxiways and runways are expensive.

The airport expects to pay for the costs from an FAA grant, Christopher said.

It will likely be 2019 when the runways are physically renumbered, he said. That’s when the airport plans to do some repair work to them.

Wichita Eisenhower National Airport crews on Tuesday morning practiced how they would remove snow and ice from the commercial passenger airport's three runways. (Oct. 31, 2017)

The Wichita Airport Authority conducted an FAA mandated large-scale disaster exercise on Sept. 19, 2017. The drill included approximately 300 officials and volunteers from various emergency management agencies and schools. The exercise featured a

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark

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