Chapter 10 Night Operations

Night Vision
Night Illusions
Pilot Equipment
Airplane Equipment and Lighting
Airport and Navigation Lighting Aids
Preparation and Preflight
Starting, Taxiing, and Runup
Takeoff and Climb
Orientation and Navigation
Approaches and Landings
Night Emergencies
Table of Contents


The lighting systems used for airports, runways, obstructions, and other visual aids at night are other important aspects of night flying.

Lighted airports located away from congested areas can be identified readily at night by the lights outlining the runways. Airports located near or within large cities are often difficult to identify in the maze of lights. It is important not to only know the exact location of an airport relative to the city, but also to be able to identify these airports by the characteristics of their lighting pattern.

Aeronautical lights are designed and installed in a variety of colors and configurations, each having its own purpose. Although some lights are used only during low ceiling and visibility conditions, this discussion includes only the lights that are fundamental to visual flight rules (VFR) night operation.

It is recommended that prior to a night flight, and particularly a cross-country night flight, the pilot check the availability and status of lighting systems at the destination airport. This information can be found on aeronautical charts and in the Airport/Facility Directory. The status of each facility can be determined by reviewing pertinent Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs).

A rotating beacon is used to indicate the location of most airports. The beacon rotates at a constant speed, thus producing what appears to be a series of light flashes at regular intervals. These flashes may be one or two different colors that are used to identify various types of landing areas. For example:

  • Lighted civilian land airports—alternating white and green.
  • Lighted civilian water airports—alternating white and yellow.
  • Lighted military airports—alternating white and green, but are differentiated from civil airports by dual peaked (two quick) white flashes, then green.

Beacons producing red flashes indicate obstructions or areas considered hazardous to aerial navigation. Steady burning red lights are used to mark obstructions on or near airports and sometimes to supplement flashing lights on en route obstructions. High intensity flashing white lights are used to mark some supporting structures of overhead transmission lines that stretch across rivers, chasms, and gorges. These high intensity lights are also used to identify tall structures, such as chimneys and towers.

As a result of the technological advancements in aviation, runway lighting systems have become quite sophisticated to accommodate takeoffs and landings in various weather conditions. However, the pilot whose flying is limited to VFR only needs to be concerned with the following basic lighting of runways and taxiways.

The basic runway lighting system consists of two straight parallel lines of runway-edge lights defining the lateral limits of the runway. These lights are aviation white, although aviation yellow may be substituted for a distance of 2,000 feet from the far end of the runway to indicate a caution zone. At some airports, the intensity of the runway-edge lights can be adjusted to satisfy the individual needs of the pilot. The length limits of the runway are defined by straight lines of lights across the runway ends. At some airports, the runway threshold lights are aviation green, and the runway end lights are aviation red.

At many airports, the taxiways are also lighted. A taxiway- edge lighting system consists of blue lights that outline the usable limits of taxi paths.

Previous | Next

Copyright 2012
PED Publication