Lonely Planet Writer

Could circular runways be the future for air travel? This Dutch engineer thinks so

Could an endless circular runway be the future of air travel? The remarkable idea is the brainchild of Henk Hesselink, a Dutch engineer who believes we need a fundamental rethink in how we design airports. What he has come up with is a circular banked runway that would cut weather delays, increase capacity, and help travellers avoid queues.

Circular runways: could they work?
Circular runways: could they work? Image by the Endless Runway

Henk Hesselink of NLR – the Netherlands Aerospace Centre explained to Lonely Planet how airplane pilots prefer to land into a headwind, while crosswinds are a constant problem at airports. And while these landings are not unsafe and pilots are highly trained for those conditions, they do mean the runway capacity drops.

Circular runways: could they work?
Circular runways: could they work? Image by the Endless Runway

Hesselink explained to Lonely Planet: “I was thinking how to avoid challenging crosswind conditions that cause difficulties for landing and cause capacity drops. We need a system where the aircraft can take off and land always under the same conditions. The solution … a circle.” A circle means a point could always be found without a crosswind while runway overshoots would also become a thing of the past, he said.

Circular runways: could this be the future for airports?
Circular runways: could this be the future for airports? Image by the Endless Runway

He explained: “Under normal conditions, that is to say: not too much wind, the runway can operate three aircraft simultaneously, where we estimate capacity [would be] similar to that of four runways at a conventional airport. Agreements with the communities around the airfield can be made to ensure noise is distributed equally or at least as agreed. Large communities can be avoided. Flight paths will be shorter as aircraft do not have to circle around the airfield, but can fly straight towards their optimum landing point. Passengers will be faster at their destination.”

Could circular runways make airports more efficient?
Could circular runways make airports more efficient? Image by the Endless Runway

Hesselink said that as demand for air travel grows, capacity issues will only get worse. He is hoping that drones could be the first to operate using a circular runway, not the drones we see now but instead the next generation of much larger cargo-style drones.

He explained: “The nice thing is that these drones would not need the extensive infrastructure as required for passengers and the circle diameter can be smaller. I do hope to the get the possibility to test the circle in the near future with a large drone to take the next step in finding out how the circular runway would work in practice.”

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