Earth's magnetic field forcing changes at Dwight D. Eisenhower airport

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) Since the 1950's when Wichita's airport first opened, most pilots in and out of ICT knew 1R/19L and 14/32 by heart, but now those numbers could be changing.

"Most airports may only do this once or twice in their lifetime," explains Brad Christopher, assistant director of airports at Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The designated runway numbers represent the angle of the runway. For example, 1L/19R is Wichita's newest runway and it sits at a 196-degree angle; the 19 represents that angle for pilots making an approach.

Angles are measured by the current magnetic variance record or the current magnetic azemeth. Simply put, the direction north on a map doesn't necessarily reflect where the magnets in earth's core pull the needle on a compass.

"As we look at this right now, our runways should be redesignated," says Christopher.

Because of magnetic variance, Wichita's two parallel runways now sit at 196-degrees when looking at a pilot's compass; now the two runways will likely be redesignated to 2R/20L and 2L/20R to reflect the degree change.

"It’s a critical update for navigational accuracy," says Elizabeth Isham Cory with the Federal Aviation Administration.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is responsible for
determining the magnetic variation for all areas of the United States. Current variance for any airport can be calculated here.

"This is particularly important to those who fly under instrument flight rules because those you shoot precision instrument approaches," says Tim Bonnell. Bonnell is a pilot and the current president of the Kansas Aviation Museum.

Bonnell says travelers through Wichita's airport won't feel the effect of the change and pilots won't see much of a change either.

"They'll fly towards the Wichita airport, they'll see the number, they'll land on it just as they always have."

But for the Wichita airport, changing the runway numbers can take years.

"It's not a quick process and there are many things involved," says Christopher.

The airport will have to repaint all numbers on the runways and place all taxi signage. Additionally, the airport must notify all authorities of the changes and coordinate with the FAA to update the information on charts and equipment.

It's a process that will likely cost $350,000, but Christopher says that money won't come from Wichita taxes; if the airport changes the runway numbers while also making repairs to the runway, the FAA pays for 90 percent of the project.

"We're still evaluating," says Christopher. "I wouldn't say [the changes are] official, but it appears likely."

Christopher says the airport is planning on updating and rehabilitating the pavement on the parallel runways sometime during 2019.