Hello, Sign in.
Account & Bookings.
Book Now
Let's find your perfect room at the best price.
Price Promise. We price match our rooms in real-time against all major booking sites.


Where would you like to go?

London Gatwick, South Terminal.

Inside South Terminal, before the Departure Lounge.

Birmingham, Jewellery Quarter.

Birmingham's historic city-centre district.




Rooms & Guests.

1 Room for 2 Adults.
Room 1
Add another room.Need more? Email us: [email protected]

Runways on the Move.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Imagine a world where your local street address changes every few years, causing confusion and chaos.

For airports, this surreal scenario is a reality, thanks to the Earth's ever-wandering magnetic north pole. This seemingly minor shift has a surprisingly significant impact on runways, forcing airports to engage in a costly and time-consuming game of name changes and repainting.

So, why exactly are runways constantly on the move? The answer lies in how they're named.

Each runway bears a two-digit number, corresponding to the magnetic compass heading of its alignment. For example, a runway designated "18" points roughly north (180 degrees), while "09" points east (90 degrees). This system, based on magnetic north, provides a clear and universal language for pilots navigating the skies.

However, magnetic north isn't static. It drifts continuously, currently at a rate of around 40 miles per year. While this might seem insignificant, over time, the discrepancy between true north and magnetic north can become substantial. When this difference reaches a certain threshold, typically 10 degrees, runway names need to be updated to reflect the new magnetic heading.

The consequences of not updating are potentially disastrous.

Misaligned runways could lead to pilot confusion, potentially causing runway incursions, near-misses, and even accidents. This is why international aviation regulations mandate regular reviews and updates to runway designations.

The process of changing a runway name is no small feat. It involves not only repainting the numbers on both ends of the runway itself, but also updating signage, charts, navigational databases, and flight procedures. This can be a logistical nightmare, requiring close collaboration between airport authorities, air traffic control, airlines, and pilots.

The financial burden is also significant.

Studies estimate that repainting a single runway can cost over £80,000, while a complete overhaul with signage and documentation can reach millions. This adds to the already hefty operational costs of airports, impacting ticket prices and potentially hindering airport development.

Despite the challenges, the safety imperative outweighs the cost.

Airports located near the magnetic poles, where the drift is more pronounced, face more frequent changes. Fairbanks International Airport in Alaska, for instance, updates its runways every 20 years, while airports closer to the equator, where the drift is slower, might only need changes every few decades.

The future of runway naming might offer some relief.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is exploring the possibility of transitioning to a system based on true north, eliminating the need for constant updates. However, implementing such a change would require global coordination and significant infrastructure upgrades, making it a long-term solution.

In the meantime, airports are embracing technology to mitigate the impact of magnetic drift.

Some are investing in runway lighting systems that automatically adjust to the changing magnetic heading, while others are exploring the use of GPS-based navigation, which is independent of magnetic north.

The Earth's magnetic north might be on the move, but airports are adapting. By embracing innovation and collaboration, they can ensure safe and efficient navigation, even as the ground beneath them seems to shift.

So, the next time you see a runway with freshly painted numbers, remember the hidden story of magnetic mayhem and the tireless efforts to keep the skies safe.

Bloc Gatwick

Bloc Hotel Gatwick

Bloc is a short-stay hotel designed to give you the very best of everything needed to sleep, shower and step out fresh into a new day, right in the heart of the action.

It's short-term staying designed around you. Lightspeed wifi, to keep you connected when you’re on. High-powered showers, sound-proof walls and big, comfy beds for when you’re not.

It’s everything you need, and none of what you don’t. No bells, no whistles, just pure rest and relaxation. And even better, it’s right at the centre of the action, so you can step right out into it when morning comes, and step right back in when the day is done.

Book direct and save at least 10% + Free Premium Security.

Free Bloc magazine.

Bloc magazine. Summer 2024.

Download the summer 2024 issue of Bloc magazine for free.

We have curated a wealth of interesting articles to enjoy on your travels.

Plus the usual features; Meeting the Bloc team, our favourite shows to stream, and much more.

Download for free.


The only hotel reward scheme that rewards you before you book.

Always save at least 10% and instantly unlock all our amazing rewards.

No points, no tiers, completely free.

Learn more about VIP+.


Forgot password?

No account? No problem.

Create an account by booking a discounted VIP+ price when choosing your room. No need to register in advance.