Aircraft Lighting

Aircraft Position Lights


  • Aircraft lighting allows pilots and aircraft to see and be seen
    • Internal lighting illuminates instruments
    • External lighting illuminates ground hazards while simultaneously allowing for the identification of other aircraft and their orientation
  • Lights can provide critical traffic information, and therefore, their use is regulated for both day and night operations
  • The Federal Aviation Administration further encourages light use through recommended practices
  • Think you've got a solid understanding of aircraft lights? Don't miss the aircraft lighting quiz below, and topic summary

Exterior Aircraft Lights:

  • Aircraft lighting systems include both interior and exterior lighting arrangements
  • Externally, lighting consists of anti-collision and navigation (position) lights
  • Anti-Collision Lights:

    • An aircraft anti-collision light system can use one or more rotating beacons and strobe lights and be colored either red or white
      • The red light on the tail is often referred to as the beacon, while the wing lights are referred to as the strobes
    • They assist others in gaining the attention of an operating aircraft's position, particularly at night when their use is mandatory
    • Care should be used during their operation at night when in the vicinity of others while on the ground
      • Their use on the ground should be limited to when required (when an engine is running) if their use otherwise risks blinding pilots operating nearby
      • In this way, when conducting a preflight, quickly check the function of the lights and then turn them off for the remainder of the walk-around

Interior Aircraft Lights:

  • Interior lighting varies greatly between aircraft
    • Lighting may include a spotlight or lights for individual instruments
  • Use the lowest settings available to preserve night vision

Aircraft Lighting Regulations:

  • Aircraft position lights are required to be lighted on aircraft operated on the surface and in flight from sunset to sunrise (or in Alaska, during the period when a prominent unlighted object cannot be seen from a distance of 3 Statute Miles (SM) or the sun is more than 6° below the horizon)
    • Note the sunset and sunrise is more restrictive than Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 91.1's definition of night
    • The military is given an exception to civilian lighting rules under certain conditions, which is one of the reasons why flight through a Military Operating Area can be particularly hazardous
  • In addition, it is required that aircraft equipped with an anti-collision light system operate that light system during all types of operations (day and night)
    • An aircraft anti-collision light system can use one or more rotating beacons and strobe lights, be colored either red or white, and have different (higher than the minimum) intensities when compared to other aircraft
      • Many aircraft have both a rotating beacon and a strobe light system
      • All lights must be functional to meet FAR 91.205 requirements
    • Supplementary strobe lights should be turned off on the ground when they adversely affect ground personnel or other pilots and in flight when there are adverse reflections from clouds
    • During any adverse meteorological conditions, the Pilot-In-Command may turn off the anti-collision lights when their light output would constitute a hazard to safety (14 CFR Section 91.209)
    • In the event of failure of any light of the anti-collision light system, operations may continue to a stop where repairs or replacements can be made
  • If the aircraft is operated for hire, one electric landing light is required
  • No person may:
    • Park or move an aircraft in, or in dangerous proximity to, a night flight operations area unless:
      • The aircraft is clearly illuminated
      • The aircraft has lighted position lights
      • The aircraft is in an area marked by obstruction lights
    • Anchor an aircraft unless:
      • Has lighted anchor lights or
      • It is in an area where anchor lights are not required on vessels
        • takeoffs-and-landings/taxi lights should be utilized for all taxi movements ashore during the hours of darkness unless a taxi signalman is directing the aircraft
  • The FAA allows pilots to exercise good judgment to avoid blinding pilots of other aircraft that are either airborne or on the ground, as well as ground personnel when conditions like night or when flying in instrument meteorological conditions

Use of Aircraft Lighting:

  • The FAA has a voluntary pilot safety program, Operation Lights On, to enhance the see-and-avoid concept
  • Pilots are encouraged to turn on their landing lights during takeoff, either after receiving their takeoff clearance or when beginning the takeoff roll
  • Pilots are further encouraged to turn their landing lights on when operating below 10,000', day or night, especially within 10 miles of any airport, or in conditions of reduced visibility and in areas where expecting flocks of birds, i.e., coastal areas, lake areas, around refuse dumps, etc.
  • Although turning on aircraft lights does enhance the see-and-avoid concept, pilots should not become complacent about keeping a sharp lookout for other aircraft
  • Not all aircraft are equipped with lights, and some pilots may not have their lights turned on
  • Pilots should observe aircraft manufacturers' recommendations for landing lights and electrical systems operation
  • Propeller, and jet blast forces generated by large aircraft have overturned or damaged several smaller aircraft taxiing behind them
    • To avoid similar results, and in the interest of preventing upsets and injuries to ground personnel from such forces, the Federal Aviation Administration recommends that air carriers and commercial operators turn on their rotating beacons any time their aircraft engines are in operation
    • General aviation pilots using rotating beacon-equipped aircraft are also encouraged to participate in this program to alert others to the potential hazard
    • Since this is a voluntary program, exercise caution and do not rely solely on the rotating beacon as an indication that aircraft engines are in operation
  • Before commencing taxi, it is recommended to turn on navigation, position, anti-collision, and logo lights (if equipped)
    • To signal intent to other pilots, consider turning on the taxi light when the aircraft is moving or intending to move on the ground and turning it off when stopped or yielding to other ground traffic
    • Strobe lights should not be illuminated during taxi if they will adversely affect the vision of other pilots or ground personnel
  • Pilots should illuminate all exterior lights when taxiing on or across any runway
    • Exterior lighting increases the conspicuousness of the aircraft to controllers and other pilots approaching to land, taxiing, or crossing the runway
    • Pilots should comply with any equipment operating limitations and consider the effects of landing and strobe lights on other aircraft in their vicinity
  • When entering the departure runway for takeoff or to "line up and wait," all lights, except for landing lights, should be illuminated to make the aircraft conspicuous to Air Traffic Control and other aircraft on approach
    • Landing lights should be turned on when takeoff clearance is received or when commencing takeoff roll at an airport without an operating control tower

Aircraft Lighting Knowledge Quiz:


  • Aircraft lighting is important in assisting in seeing and avoiding other aircraft
    • Remember that, generally speaking, anti-collision lights are required at all times, while position lights are only required at night
    • Still, leaving them on continuously, especially with Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) lighting becoming more prevalent, is worthy of consideration, as long as they do not cause blinding at night
  • Consider the importance of Visual Scanning and Collision Avoidance at night as it pertains to the use and interpretation of aircraft lighting
  • Realize that aircraft lighting can contribute to landing and night
  • illusions
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