Aircraft Lighting


  • Aircraft lighting serves multiple purposes, from simply identifying the location of an aircraft to discerning its direction of flight
  • They consist of position and anti-collision lights


  • 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 period of 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 FAR 91.1's definition of night
    • The military is given exception to civilian lighting rules
  • In addition, aircraft equipped with an anti-collision light system are required to 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/or strobe lights, be colored either red or white, and have different (higher than minimum) intensities when compared to other aircraft
      • Many aircraft have both a rotating beacon and a strobe light system
    • 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 reflection from clouds
    • During any adverse meteorological conditions, the Pilot-In-Command (PIC) may determine that the anti-collision lights should be turned off 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 anticollision light system, operations with the aircraft may be continued to a stop where repairs or replacement 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 dangerous proximity to, a night flight operations area unless:
      • It is clearly illuminated
      • Has lighted position lights
      • It is in an area that is marked by obstruction lights
    • Anchor an aircraft unless:
      • Has lighted anchor lights or
      • 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
  • Good judgment should be exercised to avoid blinding pilots of other aircraft that are either airborne or on the ground as well as ground personnel

Operation Lights On:

  • 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; i.e., either after takeoff clearance has been received or when beginning takeoff roll
  • Pilots are further encouraged to turn on their landing lights when operating below 10,000', day or night, especially when operating within 10 miles of any airport, or in conditions of reduced visibility and in areas where flocks of birds may be expected, 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
  • Aircraft manufacturer's recommendations for operation of landing lights and electrical systems should be observed
  • Prop 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 FAA 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 which is designed 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
  • Prior to 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
  • At the discretion of the pilot-in-command, all exterior lights should be illuminated when taxiing on or across any runway
    • This 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 ATC 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 is important in assisting in seeing and avoiding other aircraft
    • Remember that generally speaking, anti-collisions lights are required at all times while position lights are only required at night
    • Still, leaving them on always, especially with LED lights becoming more prevalent, is worthy of consideration, as long as they do not cause blinding at night
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