Sydney Airport flight paths – overview

Sydney Airport has three runways and each can be used in two directions. Each runway direction has a number of flight paths attached to it. There are two parallel runways which can be used in a northerly direction – “north flow” – or in a southerly direction – “south flow”. There is one crossing runway that can be used in a westerly direction – “west flow” – or an easterly direction – “east flow”.

The images below illustrate the flight paths used in north, south, east and west flows. These illustrations are indicative only and are provided for information purposes. Throughout the portal you will find images of actual aircraft tracks which will give a more concrete example of where aircraft generally can be expected to fly. However exceptions do occur from time-to-time.

Arrival paths are shown in green and departure paths in orange.

Below: south flow (left) and north flow (right)
South flowNorth flow

Below: east flow (left) and west flow (right)
East flow West flow

The flight paths to and from the runways are designed to avoid the military restricted areas that surround Sydney, at Holsworthy, Richmond, Williamtown and off the coast to the south. There are different departure flight paths for jets (D1, D2, D5, D7 and D8 in the images above) and non-jets (D3, D4, D6 and D9).

How is the flow direction selected?

To learn how the flow direction is determined, visit When is each flight path used? in the “How much variation should I expect?” section.

Arrivals

Aircraft will approach Sydney from the north, south, south-west, west and east. Once they reach the outside boundary of Sydney airspace, they need to travel to a point where they can intercept the final approach path to the runway. To achieve this they are “vectored” by air traffic control. Vectoring means assigning individual headings and altitudes to allow the aircraft to join the final approach and line up with the runway for landing while avoiding other aircraft.

In this process, the headings the aircraft will be directed to fly are based on where that aircraft is in the airspace, where all the other aircraft are in relation to it, and which runways are in use for landing. Many areas of Sydney not under the final approach path will experience aircraft being vectored over their areas.  For example, in south flow aircraft approaching from the west will be vectored over the north-west to join the final approach from the north (see flight path A2, south flow).

The altitudes of aircraft being vectored will always vary but they will generally be 5,000 feet or lower. Their assigned altitude will depend on how far they have left to fly and the altitude of any other traffic in the same area. Aircraft will generally join the final approach at around 3,000 feet in altitude which allows them to descend to the runway on a standard glide slope of three degrees.

The “final approach” is aligned with the runway centreline. In Sydney, arriving aircraft must be stabilised and aligned with the runway at least eight kilometres from the runway end. In poor weather this increases to more than 20 kilometres. This part of the flight path cannot be changed.

There is no regulated minimum altitude for an aircraft in the process of landing.

Departures

Departure flight paths are designed to efficiently move aircraft from the runway to the route that will take them to their destination.

The altitude of aircraft after departure will depend on factors such as the type of aircraft and its weight, how heavily laden it is with fuel and passengers, and the atmospheric conditions at the time.  All these factors affect an aircraft’s climb rate.  There is no regulated minimum altitude for an aircraft in the process of taking off.

Learn more about the runways at Sydney Airport and how they are used

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