A circular solution for future airports

Here’s why

Most major airports are grappling with the problem of capacity shortage in the UK or elsewhere. The problem is so acute at the Heathrow airport that airlines have started cutting their routes to the airport and rescheduling it to other countries.

Airports are getting more congested since more people are flying than ever before. According to the latest forecast by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the number of air passengers will reach to 7.2bn in 2035. That will pose a big challenge to air traffic-controllers who are already struggling with unacceptable level of workloads. It’s also a challenge for airport designers and urban planners.

A Dutch aviation expert Henk Hesselink of the Netherlands Aerospace Centre proposed a revolutionary idea of building circular runways. This radical concept could solve most problems airports are facing today. The new runway design would allow a large number of aircrafts to fly in a smaller space.

The Concept Behind the Idea

The proposed circular runway works very much like a high-speed race track. The design is slightly banked raising the outer edges to offset the centrifugal force caused by the fast circular movement of airplanes. It allows planes to gain speed while keeping it on the runway. With new design landing airplanes wouldn’t have to face strong crosswinds, that also means a saving of costly ATF.

Divided Opinions

Though the idea of creating a circular runway is radical; it elicited mixed reactions from the aviation fraternity. Some air safety experts dubbed this unpractical considering the amount of space it would require building a full circle runway and the accuracy required for building high side loads on the landing gear. There are other concerns related to safety while landing on a banked runway. Adding the fact that airplanes have long wingspans; safe landing on circular runways would certainly be tricky for pilots. There would be issues related to tyre wear and stress on the gear due to the practical problems of landing in a turn. Airports will need to design whole new instrument landing system that syncs with a 360-degree runway.

The Future is Circular

For now, the idea of building circular runways remains a concept tested only in computer simulations. The team is planning to test the concept with drones on a racetrack. The success of the experiment will pave the way for new and more efficient airports in the future. However, it seems highly unlikely to implement the idea in existing airports as that requires a marked shift in the airport design and infrastructure. But as the aviation sector grows, we may see a lot more new airports in the future and some of them may have circular runways. 

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