News: What you see on, under and around the runway

Schiphol’s 5 runways have a unique system. They are in different directions so that planes can always land and take-off from Schiphol, no matter which way the wind is blowing.

Published on: 27 June 2019

View image in a larger format


The runway consists of several layers and is approx. 1.5 metres thick. Therefore, they must be strong enough to withstand the largest aircraft types. The top layer is a 5mm thick anti-skid layer, which is very rough and allows aircraft to quickly brake. There is a layer of asphalt below that, a cement-treated base course and a layer of sand. The numbers painted on the tracks are large, and clearly visible from the air. That way, the pilot knows for certain that they are landing on the right runway. The numbers refer to the direction in which the course lies, indicated by the degrees on a compass.


All runway lines are aids for the pilot during the day, so that they know where they are. The threshold indicates the start of the runway, and next are the strips that demarcate the touchdown zone. There are markings at every 500 feet (152m), so that the pilot knows how many metres are left. White lines indicate the centres of the lane (centre lines) and the sides (edge markings). The lights are visual aids during landings, especially for use at night and where visibility may be limited. The Approach Lighting System (ALS) is in front of the runway. Those lights indicate whether the pilot is on the correct approach route. The lights on the side of the track are white, just like the lamps on the centre lines. The touchdown zone is marked with lights; the touchdown zone lights. The PAPI lighting on the side of the runway in the grass indicates whether the aircraft has the correct descent angle.


Keeping as little water on the runways as possible helps to maintain good visibility and prevent slippage. That’s why the runway runs slightly from the middle to the shoulder (side of the runway). In the middle of the shoulder, there is a narrow gutter that is 2cm wide (a plane wheel must be able to pass over it without any problems) that drains even more water. The red and white-chequered posts next to the runway are part of the Instrument Landing System (ILS). This is a radio navigation system with which a landing can be carried out accurately and automatically. ILS makes it possible to land safely in situations of (very) poor visibility.

Grass contaminated with a fungus surrounds most of the runways. Mice don't like this and stay away. That’s good for flight safety, because birds such as buzzards, kestrels and herons that like to eat mice can sate their appetite somewhere else. Even so, you will still find some birds around the track. Bird control keeps them at a distance because a bird strike can cause great damage to an aircraft and even lead to engine failure.