For an airport to receive a specific aircraft, its runways need to be able to accommodate the specifications of the plane. One of the most prominent factors to consider is the required take-off distance of aircraft. So which commercial passenger planes can take off on the runway distance? Let’s explore.
What are the criteria?
Before diving into an in-depth look at take-off distance, we have to define the type of aircraft we are considering. ATR may be providing short take-off and landing (STOL) turboprops specifically for the Japanese domestic market, but let’s determine some parameters for which planes are to be included in this analysis.
For the purposes of this article, let’s draw the line to mean aircraft that carry over 70 passengers. At maximum capacity, an ATR 42-600 such as the STOL intended for Japanese carriers and capable of taking off from an 800-meter runway can carry 50 people. And for instance, a small one-person Slepcev Storch is technically a passenger aircraft. It only needs 38 meters of runway but is hardly intended for commercial passenger operations.
Thus, we will focus on the more recognizable aircraft in production and used in daily (sea-level) operations worldwide.
Lukla in Nepal has one of the shortest commercial runways in the world. Photo: Getty Images
Why is take-off distance significant?
Not all airports are equal. Some are small due to geographical restrictions, like being built too close to a city center (like Hong Kong’s famous Kai Tak airport) and don’t have much room to expand or lengthen runways. Others have more minute operations as there is simply not a substantial passenger demand, negating the need for miles of runway.
Thus, airlines need aircraft that are flexible enough to carry as many passengers (and freight) as possible while at the same time operating to airports that may not have the optimal runway length. So which passenger aircraft can take off on the shortest runway?
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests
The 747-8 is obviously not going to claim the top spot on this list. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying
What about size?
Size does play a significant role in how much runway is required for an aircraft. A bigger airframe needs more space to reach the speed necessary to lift off. Plus, more fuel, passengers, and cargo significantly impact performance on the runway.
For these reasons, you can imagine that an Airbus A380 and Boeing 747 are out of the game right away (but let’s include their specifications for fun and comparison). The Airbus A380 needs 3,000 m (9,800 ft) of runway to take off fully-loaded, while the Boeing 747-8 requires 3,100 m (10,200 ft).
Looking at other widebodies, the out-of-production Boeing 767-200 that needs just 1,900 m (6,300 ft) deserves special attention. A tad smaller, we have the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320. Of the former, the Boeing 737-100 can operate on runways of 1,830 m (6,000 ft). The smallest variant of the Airbus A320 family, the A318, only needs 1,780 m (5,840 ft).
The A220-100 needs the shortest runway of the 70+ passenger jets.
Photo: Joe Kunzler | Simple Flying
Turboprop wins out but only by about 100 meters
Unsurprisingly, smaller regional aircraft will come out on top of the list (although that seems a strange title when measuring the shortest distance of something. The Embraer E170 (typically seating around 72 passengers) needs 1,644m (5,394 ft).
Meanwhile, the competitive Airbus A220-100 (100 to 125 passengers depending on configuration) only requires a runway of 1,463 m (4,800 ft). As such, the Airbus A220-100 takes the cake with the shortest take-off distance when it comes to jet aircraft.
When including turboprops (and why would we not), an ATR-72-600 (78 passengers at max capacity) only needs 1,367 m (4,485 ft). Thus, it can get away with a shorter runway than the A220-100.
The ATR 72-600 wins the shortest runway battle. Photo: ATR / BARTHE Pierre
Do you know what the shortest take-off aircraft you have flown on is? Leave a comment below and share your story and experience with the community and us.