Section 1. Airport Lighting Aids
Approach Light Systems (ALS)
ALS provide the basic means to transition from instrument flight to visual flight for landing. Operational requirements dictate the sophistication and configuration of the approach light system for a particular runway.
ALS are a configuration of signal lights starting at the landing threshold and extending into the approach area a distance of 2400-3000 feet for precision instrument runways and 1400-1500 feet for nonprecision instrument runways. Some systems include sequenced flashing lights which appear to the pilot as a ball of light traveling towards the runway at high speed (twice a second). (See FIG 2-1-1.)
Visual Glideslope Indicators
Visual Approach Slope Indicator (VASI)
VASI installations may consist of either 2, 4, 6, 12, or 16 light units arranged in bars referred to as near, middle, and far bars. Most VASI installations consist of 2 bars, near and far, and may consist of 2, 4, or 12 light units. Some VASIs consist of three bars, near, middle, and far, which provide an additional visual glide path to accommodate high cockpit aircraft. This installation may consist of either 6 or 16 light units. VASI installations consisting of 2, 4, or 6 light units are located on one side of the runway, usually the left. Where the installation consists of 12 or 16 light units, the units are located on both sides of the runway.
Two-bar VASI installations provide one visual glide path which is normally set at 3 degrees. Three-bar VASI installations provide two visual glide paths. The lower glide path is provided by the near and middle bars and is normally set at 3 degrees while the upper glide path, provided by the middle and far bars, is normally 1/4 degree higher. This higher glide path is intended for use only by high cockpit aircraft to provide a sufficient threshold crossing height. Although normal glide path angles are three degrees, angles at some locations may be as high as 4.5 degrees to give proper obstacle clearance. Pilots of high performance aircraft are cautioned that use of VASI angles in excess of 3.5 degrees may cause an increase in runway length required for landing and rollout.
The basic principle of the VASI is that of color differentiation between red and white. Each light unit projects a beam of light having a white segment in the upper part of the beam and red segment in the lower part of the beam. The light units are arranged so that the pilot using the VASIs during an approach will see the combination of lights shown below.
The VASI is a system of lights so arranged to provide visual descent guidance information during the approach to a runway. These lights are visible from 3-5 miles during the day and up to 20 miles or more at night. The visual glide path of the VASI provides safe obstruction clearance within plus or minus 10 degrees of the extended runway centerline and to 4 NM from the runway threshold. Descent, using the VASI, should not be initiated until the aircraft is visually aligned with the runway. Lateral course guidance is provided by the runway or runway lights. In certain circumstances, the safe obstruction clearance area may be reduced by narrowing the beam width or shortening the usable distance due to local limitations, or the VASI may be offset from the extended runway centerline. This will be noted in the Chart Supplement U.S. and/or applicable notices to airmen (NOTAM).
Civil ALSF-2 may be operated as SSALR during favorable weather conditions.
For 2-bar VASI (4 light units) see FIG 2-1-2.
For 3-bar VASI (6 light units) see FIG 2-1-3.
For other VASI configurations see FIG 2-1-4.
Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI). The precision approach path indicator (PAPI) uses light units similar to the VASI but are installed in a single row of either two or four light units. These lights are visible from about 5 miles during the day and up to 20 miles at night. The visual glide path of the PAPI typically provides safe obstruction clearance within plus or minus 10 degrees of the extended runway centerline and to 3.4 NM from the runway threshold. Descent, using the PAPI, should not be initiated until the aircraft is visually aligned with the runway. The row of light units is normally installed on the left side of the runway and the glide path indications are as depicted. Lateral course guidance is provided by the runway or runway lights. In certain circumstances, the safe obstruction clearance area may be reduced by narrowing the beam width or shortening the usable distance due to local limitations, or the PAPI may be offset from the extended runway centerline. This will be noted in the Chart Supplement U.S. and/or applicable NOTAMs. (See FIG 2-1-5.)
Tri-color Systems. Tri-color visual approach slope indicators normally consist of a single light unit projecting a three-color visual approach path into the final approach area of the runway upon which the indicator is installed. The below glide path indication is red, the above glide path indication is amber, and the on glide path indication is green. These types of indicators have a useful range of approximately one-half to one mile during the day and up to five miles at night depending upon the visibility conditions. (See FIG 2-1-6.)
Since the tri-color VASI consists of a single light source which could possibly be confused with other light sources, pilots should exercise care to properly locate and identify the light signal.
When the aircraft descends from green to red, the pilot may see a dark amber color during the transition from green to red.
Since the PVASI consists of a single light source which could possibly be confused with other light sources, pilots should exercise care to properly locate and identify the light signal.
Pulsating Systems. Pulsating visual approach slope indicators normally consist of a single light unit projecting a two-color visual approach path into the final approach area of the runway upon which the indicator is installed. The on glide path indication may be a steady white light or alternating RED and WHITE light. The slightly below glide path indication is a steady red light. If the aircraft descends further below the glide path, the red light starts to pulsate. The above glide path indication is a pulsating white light. The pulsating rate increases as the aircraft gets further above or below the desired glide slope. The useful range of the system is about four miles during the day and up to ten miles at night. (See FIG 2-1-7.)
Alignment of Elements Systems. Alignment of elements systems are installed on some small general aviation airports and are a low-cost system consisting of painted plywood panels, normally black and white or fluorescent orange. Some of these systems are lighted for night use. The useful range of these systems is approximately three-quarter miles. To use the system the pilot positions the aircraft so the elements are in alignment. The glide path indications are shown in FIG 2-1-8.
Runway End Identifier Lights (REIL)
REILs are installed at many airfields to provide rapid and positive identification of the approach end of a particular runway. The system consists of a pair of synchronized flashing lights located laterally on each side of the runway threshold. REILs may be either omnidirectional or unidirectional facing the approach area. They are effective for:
Identification of a runway surrounded by a preponderance of other lighting.
Identification of a runway which lacks contrast with surrounding terrain.
Identification of a runway during reduced visibility.
Runway Edge Light Systems
Runway edge lights are used to outline the edges of runways during periods of darkness or restricted visibility conditions. These light systems are classified according to the intensity or brightness they are capable of producing: they are the High Intensity Runway Lights (HIRL), Medium Intensity Runway Lights (MIRL), and the Low Intensity Runway Lights (LIRL). The HIRL and MIRL systems have variable intensity controls, whereas the LIRLs normally have one intensity setting.
The runway edge lights are white, except on instrument runways yellow replaces white on the last 2,000 feet or half the runway length, whichever is less, to form a caution zone for landings.
The lights marking the ends of the runway emit red light toward the runway to indicate the end of runway to a departing aircraft and emit green outward from the runway end to indicate the threshold to landing aircraft.
Runway Centerline Lighting System (RCLS). Runway centerline lights are installed on some precision approach runways to facilitate landing under adverse visibility conditions. They are located along the runway centerline and are spaced at 50-foot intervals. When viewed from the landing threshold, the runway centerline lights are white until the last 3,000 feet of the runway. The white lights begin to alternate with red for the next 2,000 feet, and for the last 1,000 feet of the runway, all centerline lights are red.
Touchdown Zone Lights (TDZL). Touchdown zone lights are installed on some precision approach runways to indicate the touchdown zone when landing under adverse visibility conditions. They consist of two rows of transverse light bars disposed symmetrically about the runway centerline. The system consists of steady-burning white lights which start 100 feet beyond the landing threshold and extend to 3,000 feet beyond the landing threshold or to the midpoint of the runway, whichever is less.
Taxiway Centerline Lead-Off Lights. Taxiway centerline lead-off lights provide visual guidance to persons exiting the runway. They are color-coded to warn pilots and vehicle drivers that they are within the runway environment or instrument landing system (ILS) critical area, whichever is more restrictive. Alternate green and yellow lights are installed, beginning with green, from the runway centerline to one centerline light position beyond the runway holding position or ILS critical area holding position.
Taxiway Centerline Lead-On Lights. Taxiway centerline lead-on lights provide visual guidance to persons entering the runway. These “lead-on” lights are also color-coded with the same color pattern as lead-off lights to warn pilots and vehicle drivers that they are within the runway environment or instrument landing system (ILS) critical area, whichever is more conservative. The fixtures used for lead-on lights are bidirectional, i.e., one side emits light for the lead-on function while the other side emits light for the lead-off function. Any fixture that emits yellow light for the lead-off function must also emit yellow light for the lead-on function. (See FIG 2-1-14.)
Land and Hold Short Lights. Land and hold short lights are used to indicate the hold short point on certain runways which are approved for Land and Hold Short Operations (LAHSO). Land and hold short lights consist of a row of pulsing white lights installed across the runway at the hold short point. Where installed, the lights will be on anytime LAHSO is in effect. These lights will be off when LAHSO is not in effect.
AIM, Paragraph 4-3-11 , Pilot Responsibilities When Conducting Land and Hold Short Operations (LAHSO)
Runway Status Light (RWSL) System
RWSL is a fully automated system that provides runway status information to pilots and surface vehicle operators to clearly indicate when it is unsafe to enter, cross, takeoff from, or land on a runway. The RWSL system processes information from surveillance systems and activates Runway Entrance Lights (REL), Takeoff Hold Lights (THL), Runway Intersection Lights (RIL), and Final Approach Runway Occupancy Signal (FAROS) in accordance with the position and velocity of the detected surface traffic and approach traffic. REL, THL, and RIL are in-pavement light fixtures that are directly visible to pilots and surface vehicle operators. FAROS alerts arriving pilots that the approaching runway is occupied by flashing the Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI). FAROS may be implemented as an add-on to the RWSL system or implemented as a stand-alone system at airports without a RWSL system. RWSL is an independent safety enhancement that does not substitute for or convey an ATC clearance. Clearance to enter, cross, takeoff from, land on, or operate on a runway must still be received from ATC. Although ATC has limited control over the system, personnel do not directly use and may not be able to view light fixture activations and deactivations during the conduct of daily ATC operations.
Runway Entrance Lights (REL): The REL system is composed of flush mounted, in-pavement, unidirectional light fixtures that are parallel to and focused along the taxiway centerline and directed toward the pilot at the hold line. An array of REL lights include the first light at the hold line followed by a series of evenly spaced lights to the runway edge; one additional light at the runway centerline is in line with the last two lights before the runway edge (see FIG 2-1-9 and FIG 2-1-12). When activated, the red lights indicate that there is high speed traffic on the runway or there is an aircraft on final approach within the activation area.
REL Operating Characteristics - Departing Aircraft:
When a departing aircraft reaches a site adaptable speed of approximately 30 knots, all taxiway intersections with REL arrays along the runway ahead of the aircraft will illuminate (see FIG 2-1-9). As the aircraft approaches an REL equipped taxiway intersection, the lights at that intersection extinguish approximately 3 to 4 seconds before the aircraft reaches it. This allows controllers to apply “anticipated separation" to permit ATC to move traffic more expeditiously without compromising safety. After the aircraft is declared “airborne" by the system, all REL lights associated with this runway will extinguish.
REL Operating Characteristics - Arriving Aircraft:
When an aircraft on final approach is approximately 1 mile from the runway threshold, all sets of taxiway REL light arrays that intersect the runway illuminate. The distance is adjustable and can be configured for specific operations at particular airports. Lights extinguish at each equipped taxiway intersection approximately 3 to 4 seconds before the aircraft reaches it to apply anticipated separation until the aircraft has slowed to approximately 80 knots (site adjustable parameter). Below 80 knots, all arrays that are not within 30 seconds of the aircraft's forward path are extinguished. Once the arriving aircraft slows to approximately 34 knots (site adjustable parameter), it is declared to be in a taxi state, and all lights extinguish.
What a pilot would observe: A pilot at or approaching the hold line to a runway will observe RELs illuminate and extinguish in reaction to an aircraft or vehicle operating on the runway, or an arriving aircraft operating less than 1 mile from the runway threshold.
When a pilot observes the red lights of the REL, that pilot will stop at the hold line or remain stopped. The pilot will then contact ATC for resolution if the clearance is in conflict with the lights. Should pilots note illuminated lights under circumstances when remaining clear of the runway is impractical for safety reasons (for example, aircraft is already on the runway), the crew should proceed according to their best judgment while understanding the illuminated lights indicate the runway is unsafe to enter or cross. Contact ATC at the earliest possible opportunity.
Takeoff Hold Lights (THL) : The THL system is composed of flush mounted, in-pavement, unidirectional light fixtures in a double longitudinal row aligned either side of the runway centerline lighting. Fixtures are focused toward the arrival end of the runway at the “line up and wait" point. THLs extend for 1,500 feet in front of the holding aircraft starting at a point 375 feet from the departure threshold (see FIG 2-1-13). Illuminated red lights provide a signal, to an aircraft in position for takeoff or rolling, that it is unsafe to takeoff because the runway is occupied or about to be occupied by another aircraft or ground vehicle. Two aircraft, or a surface vehicle and an aircraft, are required for the lights to illuminate. The departing aircraft must be in position for takeoff or beginning takeoff roll. Another aircraft or a surface vehicle must be on or about to cross the runway.
THL Operating Characteristics - Departing Aircraft:
THLs will illuminate for an aircraft in position for departure or departing when there is another aircraft or vehicle on the runway or about to enter the runway (see FIG 2-1-9.) Once that aircraft or vehicle exits the runway, the THLs extinguish. A pilot may notice lights extinguish prior to the downfield aircraft or vehicle being completely clear of the runway but still moving. Like RELs, THLs have an “anticipated separation" feature.
When the THLs extinguish, this is not clearance to begin a takeoff roll. All takeoff clearances will be issued by ATC.
What a pilot would observe: A pilot in position to depart from a runway, or has begun takeoff roll, will observe THLs illuminate in reaction to an aircraft or vehicle on the runway or entering or crossing it. Lights will extinguish when the runway is clear. A pilot may observe several cycles of illumination and extinguishing depending on the amount of crossing traffic.
When a pilot observes the red light of the THLs, the pilot should safely stop if it's feasible or remain stopped. The pilot must contact ATC for resolution if any clearance is in conflict with the lights. Should pilots note illuminated lights while in takeoff roll and under circumstances when stopping is impractical for safety reasons, the crew should proceed according to their best judgment while understanding the illuminated lights indicate that continuing the takeoff is unsafe. Contact ATC at the earliest possible opportunity.
Runway Intersection Lights (RIL): The RIL system is composed of flush mounted, in-pavement, unidirectional light fixtures in a double longitudinal row aligned either side of the runway centerline lighting in the same manner as THLs. Their appearance to a pilot is similar to that of THLs. Fixtures are focused toward the arrival end of the runway, and they extend for 3,000 feet in front of an aircraft that is approaching an intersecting runway. They end at the Land and Hold Short Operation (LASHO) light bar or the hold short line for the intersecting runway.
RIL Operating Characteristics - Departing Aircraft:
RILs will illuminate for an aircraft departing or in position to depart when there is high speed traffic operating on the intersecting runway (see FIG 2-1-9). Note that there must be an aircraft or vehicle in a position to observe the RILs for them to illuminate. Once the conflicting traffic passes through the intersection, the RILs extinguish.
RIL Operating Characteristics - Arriving Aircraft:
RILs will illuminate for an aircraft that has landed and is rolling out when there is high speed traffic on the intersecting runway that is ±5 seconds of meeting at the intersection. Once the conflicting traffic passes through the intersection, the RILs extinguish.
What a pilot would observe: A pilot departing or arriving will observe RILs illuminate in reaction to the high speed traffic operation on the intersecting runway. The lights will extinguish when that traffic has passed through the runway intersection.
Whenever a pilot observes the red light of the RIL array, the pilot will stop before the LAHSO stop bar or the hold line for the intersecting runway. If a departing aircraft is already at high speed in the takeoff roll when the RILs illuminate, it may be impractical to stop for safety reasons. The crew should safely operate according to their best judgment while understanding the illuminated lights indicate that continuing the takeoff is unsafe. Contact ATC at the earliest possible opportunity.
The Final Approach Runway Occupancy Signal (FAROS) is communicated by flashing of the Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI) (see FIG 2-1-9). When activated, the light fixtures of the PAPI flash or pulse to indicate to the pilot on an approach that the runway is occupied and that it may be unsafe to land.
FAROS is an independent automatic alerting system that does not rely on ATC control or input.
FAROS Operating Characteristics:
If an aircraft or surface vehicle occupies a FAROS equipped runway, the PAPI(s) on that runway will flash. The glide path indication will not be affected, and the allotment of red and white PAPI lights observed by the pilot on approach will not change. The FAROS system will flash the PAPI when traffic enters the runway and there is an aircraft on approach and within 1.5 nautical miles of the landing threshold.
What a pilot would observe: A pilot on approach to the runway will observe the PAPI flash if there is traffic on the runway and will notice the PAPI ceases to flash when the traffic moves outside the hold short lines for the runway.
When a pilot observes a flashing PAPI at 500 feet above ground level (AGL), the contact height, the pilot must look for and acquire the traffic on the runway. At 300 feet AGL, the pilot must contact ATC for resolution if the FAROS indication is in conflict with the clearance. If the PAPI continues to flash, the pilot must execute an immediate “go around” and contact ATC at the earliest possible opportunity.
When operating at airports with RWSL, pilots will operate with the transponder “On" when departing the gate or parking area until it is shutdown upon arrival at the gate or parking area. This ensures interaction with the FAA surveillance systems such as ASDE-X/Airport Surface Surveillance Capability (ASSC) which provide information to the RWSL system.
Pilots must always inform the ATCT when they have either stopped, are verifying a landing clearance, or are executing a go-around due to RWSL or FAROS indication that are in conflict with ATC instructions. Pilots must request clarification of the taxi, takeoff, or landing clearance.
Never cross over illuminated red lights. Under normal circumstances, RWSL will confirm the pilot's taxi or takeoff clearance previously issued by ATC. If RWSL indicates that it is unsafe to takeoff from, land on, cross, or enter a runway, immediately notify ATC of the conflict and re-confirm the clearance.
Do not proceed when lights have extinguished without an ATC clearance. RWSL verifies an ATC clearance; it does not substitute for an ATC clearance.
Never land if PAPI continues to flash. Execute a go around and notify ATC.
ATC Control of RWSL System:
Controllers can set in-pavement lights to one of five (5) brightness levels to assure maximum conspicuity under all visibility and lighting conditions. REL, THL, and RIL subsystems may be independently set.
System lights can be disabled should RWSL operations impact the efficient movement of air traffic or contribute, in the opinion of the assigned ATC Manager, to unsafe operations. REL, THL, RIL, and FAROS light fixtures may be disabled separately. Disabling of the FAROS subsystem does not extinguish PAPI lights or impact its glide path function. Whenever the system or a component is disabled, a NOTAM must be issued, and the Automatic Terminal Information System (ATIS) must be updated.
Stand-Alone Final Approach Runway Occupancy Signal (FAROS)
The stand-alone FAROS system is a fully automated system that provides runway occupancy status to pilots on final approach to indicate whether it may be unsafe to land. When an aircraft or vehicle is detected on the runway, the Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI) light fixtures flash as a signal to indicate that the runway is occupied and that it may be unsafe to land. The stand-alone FAROS system is activated by localized or comprehensive sensors detecting aircraft or ground vehicles occupying activation zones.
The stand-alone FAROS system monitors specific areas of the runway, called activation zones, to determine the presence of aircraft or ground vehicles in the zone (see FIG 2-1-10). These activation zones are defined as areas on the runway that are frequently occupied by ground traffic during normal airport operations and could present a hazard to landing aircraft. Activation zones may include the full-length departure position, the midfield departure position, a frequently crossed intersection, or the entire runway.
Pilots can refer to the airport specific FAROS pilot information sheet for activation zone configuration.
Clearance to land on a runway must be issued by Air Traffic Control (ATC). ATC personnel have limited control over the system and may not be able to view the FAROS signal.
If an aircraft or ground vehicle occupies an activation zone on the runway, the PAPI light fixtures on that runway will flash. The glide path indication is not affected, i.e. the configuration of red and white PAPI lights observed by the pilot on approach does not change. The stand-alone FAROS system flashes the PAPI lights when traffic occupies an activation zone whether or not there is an aircraft on approach.
A pilot on approach to the runway observes the PAPI lights flashing if there is traffic on the runway activation zones and notices the PAPI lights cease to flash when the traffic moves outside the activation zones.
A pilot on departure from the runway should disregard any observations of flashing PAPI lights.
When a pilot observes a flashing PAPI at 500 feet above ground level (AGL), the pilot must look for and attempt to acquire the traffic on the runway. At 300 feet AGL, the pilot must contact ATC for resolution if the FAROS indication is in conflict with the clearance (see FIG 2-1-11). If the PAPI lights continue to flash and the pilot cannot visually determine that it is safe to land, the pilot must execute an immediate “go around”. As with operations at non-FAROS airports, it is always the pilot's responsibility to determine whether or not it is safe to continue with the approach and to land on the runway.
Pilots should inform the ATCT when they have executed a go around due to a FAROS indication that is in conflict with ATC instructions.
At this time, the stand-alone FAROS system is not widely implemented and is used for evaluation purposes.
Control of Lighting Systems
Operation of approach light systems and runway lighting is controlled by the control tower (ATCT). At some locations the FSS may control the lights where there is no control tower in operation.
Pilots may request that lights be turned on or off. Runway edge lights, in-pavement lights and approach lights also have intensity controls which may be varied to meet the pilots request. Sequenced flashing lights (SFL) may be turned on and off. Some sequenced flashing light systems also have intensity control.
Pilot Control of Airport Lighting
Radio control of lighting is available at selected airports to provide airborne control of lights by keying the aircraft's microphone. Control of lighting systems is often available at locations without specified hours for lighting and where there is no control tower or FSS or when the tower or FSS is closed (locations with a part-time tower or FSS) or specified hours. All lighting systems which are radio controlled at an airport, whether on a single runway or multiple runways, operate on the same radio frequency. (See TBL 2-1-1 and TBL 2-1-2.)
No. of Int. Steps
Status During Nonuse Period
Intensity Step Selected Per No. of Mike Clicks
Approach Lights (Med. Int.)
Approach Lights (Med. Int.)
Off or Low
Off or Low
◆Predetermined intensity step.
✬Low intensity for night use. High intensity for day use as determined by photocell control.
Number of Int. Steps
Status During Nonuse Period
Intensity Step Selected Per No. of Mike Clicks
Off or Low
Off or Low
Step 1 or 2
On / Off
◆Low intensity for night use. High intensity for day use as determined by photocell control.
✬The control of VASI and/or REIL may be independent of other lighting systems.
With FAA approved systems, various combinations of medium intensity approach lights, runway lights, taxiway lights, VASI and/or REIL may be activated by radio control. On runways with both approach lighting and runway lighting (runway edge lights, taxiway lights, etc.) systems, the approach lighting system takes precedence for air-to-ground radio control over the runway lighting system which is set at a predetermined intensity step, based on expected visibility conditions. Runways without approach lighting may provide radio controlled intensity adjustments of runway edge lights. Other lighting systems, including VASI, REIL, and taxiway lights may be either controlled with the runway edge lights or controlled independently of the runway edge lights.
The control system consists of a 3-step control responsive to 7, 5, and/or 3 microphone clicks. This 3-step control will turn on lighting facilities capable of either 3-step, 2-step or 1-step operation. The 3-step and 2-step lighting facilities can be altered in intensity, while the 1-step cannot. All lighting is illuminated for a period of 15 minutes from the most recent time of activation and may not be extinguished prior to end of the 15 minute period (except for 1-step and 2-step REILs which may be turned off when desired by keying the mike 5 or 3 times respectively).
Suggested use is to always initially key the mike 7 times; this assures that all controlled lights are turned on to the maximum available intensity. If desired, adjustment can then be made, where the capability is provided, to a lower intensity (or the REIL turned off) by keying 5 and/or 3 times. Due to the close proximity of airports using the same frequency, radio controlled lighting receivers may be set at a low sensitivity requiring the aircraft to be relatively close to activate the system. Consequently, even when lights are on, always key mike as directed when overflying an airport of intended landing or just prior to entering the final segment of an approach. This will assure the aircraft is close enough to activate the system and a full 15 minutes lighting duration is available. Approved lighting systems may be activated by keying the mike (within 5 seconds) as indicated in TBL 2-1-3.
Radio Control System
7 times within 5 seconds
Highest intensity available
5 times within 5 seconds
Medium or lower intensity (Lower REIL or REIL‐off)
3 times within 5 seconds
Lowest intensity available (Lower REIL or REIL‐off)
For all public use airports with FAA standard systems the Chart Supplement U.S. contains the types of lighting, runway and the frequency that is used to activate the system. Airports with IAPs include data on the approach chart identifying the light system, the runway on which they are installed, and the frequency that is used to activate the system.
Although the CTAF is used to activate the lights at many airports, other frequencies may also be used. The appropriate frequency for activating the lights on the airport is provided in the Chart Supplement U.S. and the standard instrument approach procedures publications. It is not identified on the sectional charts.
Where the airport is not served by an IAP, it may have either the standard FAA approved control system or an independent type system of different specification installed by the airport sponsor. The Chart Supplement U.S. contains descriptions of pilot controlled lighting systems for each airport having other than FAA approved systems, and explains the type lights, method of control, and operating frequency in clear text.
Airport and heliport beacons have a vertical light distribution to make them most effective from one to ten degrees above the horizon; however, they can be seen well above and below this peak spread. The beacon may be an omnidirectional capacitor-discharge device, or it may rotate at a constant speed which produces the visual effect of flashes at regular intervals. Flashes may be one or two colors alternately. The total number of flashes are:
24 to 30 per minute for beacons marking airports, landmarks, and points on Federal airways.
30 to 45 per minute for beacons marking heliports.
The colors and color combinations of beacons are:
White and Green- Lighted land airport.
*Green alone- Lighted land airport.
White and Yellow- Lighted water airport.
*Yellow alone- Lighted water airport.
Green, Yellow, and White- Lighted heliport.
*Green alone or yellow alone is used only in connection with a white-and-green or white-and-yellow beacon display, respectively.
Military airport beacons flash alternately white and green, but are differentiated from civil beacons by dualpeaked (two quick) white flashes between the green flashes.
In Class B, Class C, Class D and Class E surface areas, operation of the airport beacon during the hours of daylight often indicates that the ground visibility is less than 3 miles and/or the ceiling is less than 1,000 feet. ATC clearance in accordance with 14 CFR Part 91 is required for landing, takeoff and flight in the traffic pattern. Pilots should not rely solely on the operation of the airport beacon to indicate if weather conditions are IFR or VFR. At some locations with operating control towers, ATC personnel turn the beacon on or off when controls are in the tower. At many airports the airport beacon is turned on by a photoelectric cell or time clocks and ATC personnel cannot control them. There is no regulatory requirement for daylight operation and it is the pilot's responsibility to comply with proper preflight planning as required by 14 CFR Section 91.103.
Taxiway Edge Lights. Taxiway edge lights are used to outline the edges of taxiways during periods of darkness or restricted visibility conditions. These fixtures emit blue light.
At most major airports these lights have variable intensity settings and may be adjusted at pilot request or when deemed necessary by the controller.
Taxiway Centerline Lights. Taxiway centerline lights are used to facilitate ground traffic under low visibility conditions. They are located along the taxiway centerline in a straight line on straight portions, on the centerline of curved portions, and along designated taxiing paths in portions of runways, ramp, and apron areas. Taxiway centerline lights are steady burning and emit green light.
Clearance Bar Lights. Clearance bar lights are installed at holding positions on taxiways in order to increase the conspicuity of the holding position in low visibility conditions. They may also be installed to indicate the location of an intersecting taxiway during periods of darkness. Clearance bars consist of three in-pavement steady-burning yellow lights.
Runway Guard Lights. Runway guard lights are installed at taxiway/runway intersections. They are primarily used to enhance the conspicuity of taxiway/runway intersections during low visibility conditions, but may be used in all weather conditions. Runway guard lights consist of either a pair of elevated flashing yellow lights installed on either side of the taxiway, or a row of in-pavement yellow lights installed across the entire taxiway, at the runway holding position marking.
Some airports may have a row of three or five in-pavement yellow lights installed at taxiway/runway intersections. They should not be confused with clearance bar lights described in paragraph 2-1-11 c, Clearance Bar Lights.
Stop Bar Lights. Stop bar lights, when installed, are used to confirm the ATC clearance to enter or cross the active runway in low visibility conditions (below 1,200 ft Runway Visual Range). A stop bar consists of a row of red, unidirectional, steady-burning in-pavement lights installed across the entire taxiway at the runway holding position, and elevated steady-burning red lights on each side. A controlled stop bar is operated in conjunction with the taxiway centerline lead-on lights which extend from the stop bar toward the runway. Following the ATC clearance to proceed, the stop bar is turned off and the lead-on lights are turned on. The stop bar and lead-on lights are automatically reset by a sensor or backup timer.
Pilots should never cross a red illuminated stop bar, even if an ATC clearance has been given to proceed onto or across the runway.
If after crossing a stop bar, the taxiway centerline lead-on lights inadvertently extinguish, pilots should hold their position and contact ATC for further instructions.