Since the earliest days of powered aviation, runways have had a simple, consistent design: A long, straight path, usually made of concrete or asphalt (or sometimes nothing more than a dirt strip or open field). It seems logical enough, as aircraft need a certain amount of clearance to land or takeoff. Thousands of airports have been built around this runway concept. It seems like an unshakable foundation of modern aviation.
But one group is challenging the notion of the current standard runway. Their so-called Endless Runway project actually proposes circular runways, that would surround an airport terminal:
The fundamental principle of The Endless Runway is that the aircraft take-off and land on a large circular structure. This will allow for the unique characteristic that the runway can be used in any wind direction, thus making the runway independent of the direction of the wind and therefore also the airport capacity independent of the wind direction.
That somewhat technical explanation breaks down to this: If runways are laid out in a circular fashion, air traffic controllers could adjust the entry and exit points of aircraft depending on where ground conditions are most favorable within the circle. Modern runway designs are static and mostly immovable. If there are heavy crosswinds that could cause trouble for takeoffs and landings, pilots and controllers either have to make the best of a bad situation or potentially call for the runway to be closed. But the circular runway design means aircraft can be directed to use the safest part of the circle, no matter what the conditions may be on any other part of the circle.
This approach could make airports safer and more efficient. For more information on circular runways, check out this video recently produced by the BBC.