For a pilot or a controller, knowing the names of the different parts of a airport is essential for moving planes around it successfully.

In this online exercise on Aviation English vocabulary, I'll both show you and explain what the names in English are of the different parts of an airport. This exercise has been written for both pilots and controllers, not for passengers.

To learn the vocabulary for different parts of an airplane, do our exercises on parts of a plane vocabulary.

To see our other exercises on aviation English vocabulary, go to our aviation English exercise menu.


Exercise: Describing an airport

In the following conversation, Peter (a professional pilot) explains to Juan (a Spanish trainee pilot) the names in English of the different parts of an airport.

From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Peter:'So Juan, today we are going to be looking at the names of the different parts of an airport which both pilots and air traffic controllers need to know.'

Juan:'Ok.'

Peter:'So to start, tell me what the name of the main building which passengers have to go through to board/get on a plane is?'

Juan:'That's called a terminal.'

Peter:'Perfect. So, in a terminal, what is the name of the place where passengers both go to and wait at to board a plane?'

Juan:'It's called a gate. But it's also the place where people get off/disembark from a plane too. These are too easy!'

Peter:'So let's make it a little more difficult. What is the area in front of the gates where planes are parked (whether directly in front of the gates or further away) called?'

Juan:'I've heard people call it the tarmac before, but I don't know if that's its name.'

Peter:'Some people do call this space where planes are parked the tarmac, but for pilots and controllers it is called the ramp or the apron.'

Juan:'Didn't know that. So what are the roads which the planes can move slowly on called? I know that the roads where planes take off and land are called runways. But what are the roads which connect the ramp to runways called.'

Peter:'These are called taxiways. And you are right when you say their purpose is that planes can move between from the ramp to the different runways at an airport or vice versa.'

Juan:'There are so many taxiways at airports, how do pilots know which is which or where to go? Or what is a taxiway and what is runway?'

Peter:'Well, first of all there are signs. These are squares or rectangles of metal which are above the ground which have information written on them (e.g. taxiway name, directions etc...) to help pilots.

In addition, there are lines and information painted on the actual taxiway, runway or ramp. These markings also help the pilots when moving around the airport.

Both signs and markings are especially important and helpful for pilots when two taxiways (or a runway and a taxiway) cross or one joins another. If there weren't signs and markings at these intersections, planes could get lost or crash together.'

Juan:'But what happens at night? It must be difficult to see signs or markings!'

Peter:'It's more difficult. So to help pilots, there are also lights on the taxiways, runways etc... which have different colours to help pilots move around airports.

There's one special flashing light which is used to show pilots who are approaching to land where the airport is at night or when visibility is low. This is called a beacon.'

Juan:'A beacon sounds like a lighthouse for planes.'

Peter:'You are right, they are very similar to lighthouses.

I have another question for you. What do you call the tall building with lots of windows which air traffic controllers use to see what's happening at the airport?'

Juan:'That's easy, it's called a control tower.'

Peter:'Perfect. And the last question. What do you call the buildings which planes can park inside?'

Juan:'You mean the buildings which have very large doors?'

Peter:'That's right.'

Juan:'They are called hangars.'

Peter:'Perfect.'


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Quiz: Aviation English vocabulary - Parts of an airport

Below is a photo/picture of each of the words/phrases in bold from the above text. Now choose the word from the question's selection box which you believe matches the photo/picture. Only use one word/phrase once. Click on the "Check answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question. The first is an Additional Information Icon "". Click on this for extra information on the word/phrase. The second is a Pronunciation Icon "". Click on this to listen to the pronunciation of the word/phrase and to do a pronunciation speaking test.

1. clothing exercise photoThese are called              

Intersections:
(noun) These are where either two taxiways or a taxiway and a runway cross/intersect or join. Markings, signs and (at night) lights give information to the pilot what they do at these intersections (e.g. to wait/hold until instructions are given by the control tower etc...).

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Intersections:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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2. clothing exercise photoThis place is called a              

Ramp:
(noun) Also called the 'apron' (outside the US, Canada and the Philippines) and the 'tarmac'. The 'ramp' is an area around the terminal buildings where aircraft are parked and serviced and passengers board and get off from planes.

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Ramp:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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3. clothing exercise photoThese are called              

Markings:
(noun) These are words, numbers, symbols and lines which are painted on the tarmac (on the taxiways, runways, the ramp etc...). These are used to provide locational (e.g. on what taxiway they are on etc...), directional (e.g. give directions to go to a terminal, runway or taxiway) and instructional (e.g. where to stop (holding positions), the edges of taxiway etc...) information.

Most markings are in yellow, white or black, but other colours are also used (e.g. red (with white) to inform that an entrance to a runway is ahead).

In addition to the markings on the tarmac, signs are also used to give locational, directional and instructional information. At night lights are also used to provide this type of information to pilots.

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Markings:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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4. clothing exercise photoThese are called              

Runways:
(noun) These are the parts of the airport where the planes land and take off. Runways are always called a number between 01-36. The number chosen depends on which compass direction the runway is facing (e.g. a runway would be called '9' if it faces east (90 degrees) and '18' if it faces south (180 degrees)).

If there is more than one runway facing in the same direction, then a letter is added after the number (L, C or R). The 'L' stands for 'left', the 'C' for 'centre' and the 'R' for 'right'.

In addition, as a runway can be used in two directions, most runways are called two names/numbers (e.g. 9 and 27). The number which is used by the control tower depends on which direction the planes are facing when they land or take off.

For example, on a runway which runs east to west, if planes face east when they land, the runway will be called '9' (because east is at 90 degrees). But if they change the direction of the runway, so planes land from the other end of the runway, the name/number of the runway will change to '27' because the planes are facing west (270 degrees) when they land.

Although it may seem confusing to call the same runway by two different numbers, these different numbers do help the pilots to know which compass direction they have to line up on in the process of landing.

When a runway is being used, it is called 'active'. When it isn't, it is called 'inactive' or 'closed'. In addition, when a runway is being used for takeoffs, it is often called a 'departure runway'. When a runway is being used for landings, it is called a 'landing runway'.

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Runways:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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5. clothing exercise photoThese buildings are called              

Hangars:
(noun) Roofed building used for the parking of aircraft. Hangars are used to protect aircraft from the weather or when they are undergoing maintenance or repair.

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Hangars:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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6. clothing exercise photoThis is called a              

Control tower:
(noun) Also known as 'TWR'. This is a tower at an airport where the air traffic controllers who are responsible for moving planes around the airport (called 'ground control'), for parking aircraft (called 'ramp control') and for landings and takeoffs (called 'local/tower control') use.

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Control tower:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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7. clothing exercise photoThis place is called a             

Gate:
(noun) This is the area in the terminal where passengers either board or leave the plane. Pilots and controllers often refer to the area just in front of it outside (where planes are waiting) for passengers the 'gate' also. But this area is in fact called the 'ramp' or 'apron'.

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Gate:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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8. clothing exercise photoThis light is called a              

Beacon:
(noun) Also called an 'aerodrome beacon' or 'rotating beacon'. This is a flashing light which is used at night or when there is low visibility to show the location of the airport to pilots landing. It's like a lighthouse for planes.

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Beacon:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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9. clothing exercise photoThese are called              

Signs:
(noun) These are metal objects which are used to give pilots information when taxiing/moving their aircraft around the airport. This information could be locational (i.e. where they are), directional (e.g. give directions to go to a terminal, runway or taxiway) or instructional (e.g. a place where to stop the plane or where access is prohibited).

To help pilots know what the purpose of the sign is, they have different colours.

In addition to signs, there are also markings on the tarmac (on the taxiways, runways, ramp etc...) which also provide locational, directional and instructional information. At night, lights are also used to provide this type of information to pilots.

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Signs:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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10. clothing exercise photoThis building is called a              

Terminal:
(noun) This is a building at an airport where passengers have to go through to both board a plane and when they leave the airport when the plane they have arrived on has landed.

Many airports have more than one terminal. Some of these are for passengers while others are for cargo/freight. For example, Heathrow airport in London has six different terminals (five are for passengers and one is for cargo/freight.

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Terminal:

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11. clothing exercise photoThese are called              

Lights:
(noun) Different colored lights are used to lighten up different parts of the airport (e.g. runways, taxiways etc...) for aircraft when it is night or visibility is low (e.g. when there is fog). These lights are used to help pilot both move around the airport and take off and land in these conditions.

Like signs and markings, these lights are used to give locational, directional and instructional information to pilots. The lights have different colours depending on their purpose. For example, blue lights are used to show where the edges of taxiways are, while yellow lights are used to show where the edges of the runways are.

In addition, some lights also flash (go on and off rapidly). For example, when a taxiway crosses/intersects with a runway, there are normally two elevated (not on the ground) flashing yellow lights.

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Lights:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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12. clothing exercise photoThese are called              

Taxiways:
(noun) Are the roads/paths in the airport used by aircraft to move/taxi between different parts (e.g. from the runway to the one of the terminals).

To help pilots move their planes easily in the airport, each individual taxiway is named and signed. 'Taxiways' are always called a letter of the alphabet (e.g. 'A', 'N', 'T' etc...). 'Taxiways' are never called 'I', 'O' or 'X'.)

On short 'taxiways' (used to connect a major 'taxiway' with a parallel runway, ramp area or another main 'taxiway'), their name always starts with a letter (the same as the 'taxiway' it is leaving) and then by a number. For example, 'A1', 'A2', 'A3', etc...

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Taxiways:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
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Practice

Now that you understand the new vocabulary, practise it by creating your own sentences with the new words/phrases.

Useful Links

Apart from the other aviation English exercises on my website, there are some other (but not many) useful free online resources for improving your aviation English vocabulary. Below are links to these web pages:


Blair English online classes