What is PCN in Aviation? (Pavement Classification Number)

In aviation, the Pavement Classification Number (PCN) is an important metric used to assess the strength and load-bearing capacity of airport pavements. It is a numerical value assigned to a specific runway or taxiway surface, indicating the maximum weight that the pavement can support without experiencing any detrimental effects. The PCN serves as a crucial tool for pilots, air traffic controllers, and airport operators to ensure the safety and efficiency of aircraft operations.

The Significance of Pavement Classification Number (PCN)

The PCN plays a vital role in determining the type and size of aircraft that can safely operate on a particular runway or taxiway. By knowing the PCN of an airport pavement, pilots can make informed decisions regarding takeoff and landing weights, as well as taxiing aircraft to and from parking areas. This information helps prevent overloading the pavement, which could result in structural damage or even runway failures.

Pilots rely on the PCN to determine the appropriate aircraft operating characteristics for a given runway or taxiway. For example, the PCN influences decisions on whether to use thrust reversers or maximum braking during landing, as excessive braking force can cause the aircraft’s weight to concentrate on a smaller area of the pavement, potentially exceeding its load-bearing capacity. Similarly, pilots consider the PCN when choosing their takeoff thrust settings to ensure the aircraft does not exceed the pavement’s strength limits.

When it comes to constructing or upgrading airport pavements, the PCN is a critical factor in designing the appropriate thickness and materials. Airport engineers need to consider the expected aircraft traffic, loadings, and future growth when determining the PCN requirements for a pavement. By complying with the recommended PCN, airports can ensure the longevity, durability, and safety of the pavement under various weather conditions and heavy aircraft operations.

Factors Affecting the Pavement Classification Number (PCN)

The PCN of an airport pavement is influenced by several factors, each playing a significant role in determining its strength and load-bearing capacity. Let’s explore some of the key factors that affect the Pavement Classification Number:

1. Pavement Thickness and Composition

The thickness and composition of the pavement layers have a direct impact on the PCN. Different materials, such as asphalt or concrete, have different load-carrying capacities. Generally, pavements with greater thicknesses and stronger materials can accommodate heavier aircraft without experiencing structural failures. Airport engineers consider these factors when constructing or rehabilitating pavements to ensure they meet the required PCN for the intended aircraft traffic.

Pavement composition also includes the presence of reinforcing materials, such as steel or fiber. These materials enhance the pavement’s tensile strength and reduce the risk of cracking or rutting under heavy loads. The use of appropriate reinforcement techniques can significantly increase the PCN values, allowing for the operation of larger and heavier aircraft.

2. Subgrade Strength

The subgrade, which is the natural ground underneath the pavement layers, plays a critical role in determining the PCN. The subgrade strength refers to its ability to support the weight imposed by the pavement and aircraft above it. Soils with higher bearing capacities can withstand greater loads without experiencing excessive settlement or deformation.

Engineers evaluate the subgrade’s characteristics, such as density, moisture content, and California Bearing Ratio (CBR), to assess its load-bearing capacity. By understanding the subgrade strength, they can design pavements with the appropriate thicknesses and reinforcement to achieve the desired PCN.

3. Climatic Conditions

Climatic conditions, including temperature, precipitation, and freeze-thaw cycles, have a significant influence on the PCN. Extreme temperature variations can cause pavement materials to expand or contract, potentially leading to cracking or structural failures. Similarly, heavy rainfall or freezing conditions can weaken the pavement’s integrity and reduce its load-bearing capacity.

Airports located in regions with high temperature fluctuations, monsoons, or severe winters need to consider these factors when determining the PCN for their pavements. Proper design, construction, and maintenance techniques are crucial to ensuring long-lasting and robust pavements that can withstand the effects of the local climate.


The Pavement Classification Number (PCN) is a vital parameter in aviation that enables safe and efficient aircraft operations on airport pavements. It provides crucial information to pilots, air traffic controllers, and airport operators regarding the strength and load-bearing capacity of runways and taxiways. By understanding the PCN, pilots can make informed decisions about aircraft weight and operating characteristics, while airport engineers can design pavements to withstand the expected loads and environmental conditions.

A thorough understanding of the factors influencing the PCN, such as pavement thickness, subgrade strength, and climatic conditions, is essential in the design, construction, and maintenance of airport pavements. By considering these factors, airports can ensure the durability, longevity, and safety of their pavements, enabling smooth and uninterrupted air travel.

For More: What is ATIS in Aviation? (Automatic Terminal Information Service)