What Crosses an Airport Runway?

On May 23, 2010 · 3 Comments

The world of geo-oddities extends even to airport runways, and I’ve uncovered several curiosities over the past few days. The areas served by airports don’t always confine themselves to neat, tidy spaces. Oftentimes transportation resources represent a cooperative spirit between neighbors as they band together to meet a common need. Sometimes it’s just the opposite, with confounding designs reflecting deep-rooted hostilities and disagreements.

We’ve spoken often of the intentionally porous border between Canada and the United States, the longest in the world. It’s a peaceful arrangement that includes an International Boundary Commission that works hard to dissipate any disagreements before they can fester. The boundary includes long stretches of vast empty spaces traversing North America’s interior mountains and prairies. Border stations congregate at widely-scattered towns that managed to gain a foothold.

It makes sense to share infrastructure among friendly neighbors instead of duplicating facilities on both sides of the boundary. This spirit of cooperation happens in several places along the Canadian – American border.

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The runway of the Piney – Pinecreek Border Airport actually crosses the border itself, straddling the line between the province of Manitoba and the state of Minnesota. It is owned and operated by the Minnesota Department of Transportation but the story goes that they couldn’t find any good way to expand the runway further south when they upgraded it. Plenty of space was available on the Canadian side and the two came to an agreement.

Customs and border control isn’t as difficult as one might imagine. Route 89 runs alongside the airport and a single set of stations serves both aviation and automobile traffic. The airport provides some additional instructions,

This airport is on the U.S. & Canadian Border. It is served by both U.S. & Canadian Customs Offices… Calls to U.S. Customs 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. Calls to Canadian Customs 9:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. Both Customs monitor Unicom 122.8. Clearing customs requires one hour notice. If visiting the airport, a courtesy call is appreciated.

I love the part about the "courtesy call." That implies it’s a pretty sleepy place. It sure would be nice if you could let them know when you’re planning to land there, perhaps on your way to visit the Northwest Angle. Please?

This isn’t the only shared airport along the Canada – USA border, just one of the better known examples example. There are others.

I found one more instance of similar international cooperation. The airport runway doesn’t cross a boundary but the two nations do share facilities.

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Geneva Cointrin International Airport is located entirely on the Swiss side of the border but France clearly abutting the property. It contains what is called a "French Sector" that is accessed from the French side of the border. Travelers do not have to pass through border controls as long as they remain within the sector. As the airport explains,

One special feature of GVA is that it has a French sector that allows its users to: check their bags and take an internal flight to a French airport without having to pass through Swiss territory… check in baggage and take an international flight… reach neighbouring areas of France (Pays de Gex, Divonne-les-Bains, Bellegarde, French Jura range, the departements of Ain, Jura, etc.) easily… rent a hire car from a French agency… [or] get tourist and transport information relating to France, at the ‘Accueil France’ desk.

Let’s not discount airports that cross state boundaries. It’s not as remarkable as crossing an international border but it’s interesting nonetheless. A remarkable example can be found along Australia’s Gold Coast.

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The runway of the Gold Coast Airport straddles the boundary line between New South Wales and Queensland. If that were not enough, New South Wales observes daylight saving time during the summer months and Queensland does not. Theoretically, travelers would need to adjust their watches as they taxied down the runway although I imagine this probably doesn’t happen very often as a practical matter. It’s also the only instance of an airport runway crossing a timezone boundary that I could discover, although admittedly it’s a part-time situation.

We’ve discussed several instances where bordering jurisdictions maintain good relationships and cooperate in good faith, being mindful of their mutual best interests. However, what happens when neighbors don’t get along? It creates a situation like Gibraltar.

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I could write at length about the historical situation of Gibraltar at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula, but let’s just boil it down for the sake of convenience: Spain wants it back. The border between Spain and this British Overseas Territory has been controlled tightly by Spain as a means to apply pressure although restrictions have thawed a bit in recent years.

Little land exists in Gibraltar but a shared airport would be unthinkable. The airport had to be stuffed into whatever nook was available, resulting in two rather curious situations: the runway sits practically on city centre and a major auto road crosses directly over the runway. Winston Churchill Avenue, the primary road leading from the Spanish border, has to be closed every time an airline takes off or lands.

On May 23, 2010 · 3 Comments

3 Responses to “What Crosses an Airport Runway?”

  1. Joshua says:

    I was waiting for the Gibraltar airport to be mentioned! The idea of it just rocks my world….ok not really, but it’s just so cool. Maybe one day I’ll get to visiting it. On the other hand, they’re redoing the airport and putting the main road in a tunnel underneath the runway. :-/

    • The old Hoover Field in Arlington, which served Washington DC prior to National Airport, had a similar road crossing. You can sort-of visit it if you go to the Pentagon, which is approximately where the old field stood.

  2. Chris says:

    In Tasmania there is (or perhaps was) a railway line that crosses an airport runway.

    Note really a geo-oddity, but an oddity nonetheless


    Google Earth link


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