Approach and Departure at Multi-Runway Airports

Now that global is out we have a larger list of bravo airports to fly at and control. The forum users have grown since the release of global and I thought it would be good to highlight a few items regarding approach and departure at larger multi-runway airports. Let’s begin shall we.

We will pick DFW airport for this example. Why? Because I just spent two hours on approach and departure frequencies… Some months I spend more time at DFW airport in real life than I do my own home. I tried to claim the property taxes on my federal taxes but that didnt work out well.

Terminal Layout

If you have flown to some of these larger airports you will notice that sometimes it feels like you taxi longer than the flight actually is. DFW and ORD is notorious for this and it has to do with the airport layout.

If you take a look at the DFW airport, it sits nicely in a north/south layout with a nice gap between the runways. Think of this gap as The Neutral Zone.

Regardless which side of the airport your gate it at, your destination airport will most likely dictate which runway you take off from. If you are heading to an east coast airport like Miami, Atlanta, or Chicago, you will end up taking off from the eastern runways. If you are headed to Phoenix, LAX, or Seattle, you will take off from the western runways.

If you would like to make your flights more realistic, try taxiing to the runway which makes more sense to your destination. As always, this is a perfect world scenario and if it is a FNF with 30 planes on the ground you should follow ATC instructions. The correct will also help when it comes to your departure which we will talk about in a bit.


When DFW is operating from the south, 35s and 36s are in use. As stated many many many many times on here, the inner runways are primarilly used for departures since they are closest to the terminals. This eliminates the need for runway crossings which delays takoffs. This leaves the outer runways for arrivals. Many of the larger airports have a nice long taxiway inbetween the two runways to stack up inbound planes and will often have more than one cross.

If the airspace is quiet, an inbound plane can ask for either runway as it really makes no difference. But when there is a line of departures on the ground chances are high that ATC will switch you from R to L to allow for a better flow. When you are flying into a runway wtih muliple runways, you MUST pay strict attention to what you asked for vs what ATC gives you. Many times this will chaange and can impact your flight plan and/or intercept altitude.

Along the same lines is the runway numbers themselves. Some airports have three runways which means there is a Left, Right, and Center runway. For example, at DFW the western runways are 36L and 36R but the east runways are 35L, 35C, and 35R. Those who fly into DFW in real life know 35R to be “no mans land” runway since it takes 20 minutes to taxi to the gate.


Departure is something that I think most pilots can work on. Make it a new years resolution or something. Ask any controller or pilot and most will tell you that one of (many) pet peeves is as soon as your wheels are off the runway, you hang an immediate 90 degree turn. Unfortunately the introduction of NAV has made this problem worse.

So how can you make your departures more realistic which in turn makes it safer and easier for other pilots and ATC?

Your flight plan
When you build your flight plan, throw in a waypoint or two along the runway heading. In other words, don’t take off and immediately turn. Take off, fly for a few miles, and then you can start to turn towards your destination. It also gives you time to make sure you are not turning into the path of other planes.

Fly the runway heading
When in doubt, fly the runway heading for a bit and then head to your destination.

Remeber the Neutral Zone
Remember the neutral zone I talked about earlier? The space betwee the two sets of runways… Try your hardest to not cross over this zone. If you plan the right runway for your destination hopefully this will solve most of the problem.

Take a look at this picture. This is real life DFW rnav departures. You can see how DFW is sort of defined in a box and planes make their way around the edges and then exit the airspace. You can also see a distinct void between the runways. Sure some can cross but it mainly depends on the time of day and volume. I have been on some 5am flights and we took whatever runway was closest to get us some coffee.


This picture is also a good example for those of you who are training for approach controlling. Rule #1 is to have a plan. This is a good plan to have.

As much as I wanted to do this sort of departure plan in Infinite Flight, it just wasnt possible with all the people durning 80-90 degrees after taking off BEFORE contacting the departure frequency.

Frequency Change

The controllers would like to remind you to stay on approach/departure/tower frequencies until they ask you to change. Controllers wast valuable time when a pilot switches from approach to tower 25 miles out because they think they need to. The controller will tell you when to switch.

TL;DR Version

  • pay attention to the runway atc gives you
  • fly the runway heading for a bit and then turn
  • use the right runway for taking off based on your destination.
  • don’t cross the neutral zone


Thanks for reading this far. I hope it made some sort of sense. Sometimes all it takes is a little planning and the result is a more realistic flight and controllers with lower blood pressure.


This is so much useful information, oh my god I’m currently experiencing overload


Thanks Chris!
This is my home airport, so whenever I am flying in or out of KDFW, I will now know how to perfectly execute a realistic departure or approach!

I can vouch for this one. 😂

I also suggest pilots utilize SIDs and STARs, and IAPs for their flight plans. I use them all the time to ensure I’m doing the correct procedures for an airport I’m flying into/from.

Great post!


Makes perfect sense and another very useful posting!

@Chris_S thank you for putting this together, it should be placed in the tutorials as it is very useful guide. I have yet to fly in/out of KDFW so will make that my challenge sometime in the next 7 days!

I am also a great fan of making use of the real life SIDS, STARS and IAPS. Not only does this help to make my flight more realistic but also,especially if the ATC controller has also looked at the same charts, should make the life easier for APR and DEP controlers.

I highly suggest that all controllers before they “start their shift” spend a few minutes reviewing the respective charts for the airfield in order to help forumlate their plan for controlling. Even if not following the STAR 100%, inbound pilots who have also studied the charts will be able to filter into their pattern that much easier.

On a slightly different but related topic,should IFATC consider having ‘Champions’ for certain large airports or regions? They could be an expert in that particular airfields operation (helps if they are native of that area) and so help to produce guides like this one as well as help to tutor fellow IFATC and pilots a like in the corerct operations for that airport?


That’s hilarious. But seriously, everyone should read this topic and list to what Chris says. I just spend an hour at Tower and Ground at LFPG (Expert) and there were way too many pilots making their initial turn immediately after rotation. If you want to do it when there is no ATC or other pilots, fine but please don’t do it at a crowded airport with ATC on expert.

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