Sydney Airport has three runways; the main runway 16R/34L (3.9km) orientated north to south, a shorter parallel runway 16L/34R (2.4km long), and a cross runway 07/25 (2.5km) orientated east to west. Heavy long-haul jets, such as Airbus 380s, and Boeing 747s, 777s and 787s will usually use Runway 34L/16R because it is the longest runway and they need the extra length.
Each runway is referred to differently according to in which direction it is being used. For example the main runway is known as Runway 34L when used in a northerly direction and 16L when used in a southerly direction. Runway numbering reflects the runways’ orientation and correlates with degrees on a compass. Runway 34L is 340 degrees.
Runway selection is based on wind direction, weather conditions, traffic volume and other factors. See the Runway Selection fact sheet for more details. Aircraft primarily take-off and land into the wind for safety and performance reasons. Therefore, as the wind direction changes the runway in operation may also change depending on the strength of the wind. This means that Sydney’s seasonal wind patterns affect usage of the different runway directions. Sydney Airport Long Term Operating Plan also informs runway selection decisions. It sets out a number of runway modes. The Key Facts About Noise Sharing fact sheet contains diagrams of all these runway modes.
The parallel runway modes, Modes 9 (northerly) and 10 (southerly) are used most frequently. One of these is always used in peak periods unless the wind makes it impossible. This is because using both runways at once in the same direction enables the most aircraft to be moved through the airport. Modes that tend to be used more frequently in the cooler months include Mode 5 (arrivals from the east and departures to the south), Mode 7 (departures to the west and arrivals from the south) and Mode 13 (east-west runway only; arrivals from the east and departures to the west). Mode 14a (arrivals from the west, departures to the south) tends to be used more frequently in the warmer months.
Sydney Airport has a curfew that restricts both aircraft type and runway usage between the hours of 11pm and 6am. During this time departures should use Runway 16R and arrivals 34L. There are very limited circumstances where other runways can be used.