Your ultimate guide to airfield ground lighting

Your ultimate guide to airfield ground lighting

Airplane passengers will have noticed the vast amount of lights when taking off or landing. If you aren’t in the field of aviation, you may wonder what all of these lights are for.

One fascinating fact is that the color and configuration of airfield lighting is universal. Whether you’re at JFK in New York, London Heathrow, or Dubai International Airport, the lights will be the same. This has a profound impact on safety – pilots know what to expect and how to read the lights, regardless of where they are in the world. So what are all these lights and what do they do?

Runway lighting

The runway is the path an airplane follows for take-off or landing. Next time you’re waiting for take-off and it’s dark, you might spot lines of white lights that transition to a warm yellow color. These are runway edge lights. This lighting marks the runway’s edge and guides pilots during approach and landing. They are usually used when it’s dark or visibility is poor. The color change marks the departure end of the runway. Runway edge lights are usually spaced around 60 meters apart.

You might also notice red and green lights at either end of the runway. These lights are known as runway end lights and are frequently elevated for maximum visibility. The approach end is marked by green lights, whereas the red lights are located at the departure end, and are a signal to pilots that this is the end of the runway.

The third type of runway lighting is runway guard lights, yellow lights that may be elevated and flashing, or maybe a row of embedded lights. They mark every intersection between the runway and taxiway – essential for guaranteeing safety with multiple aircraft moving on the ground.

Taxiway lighting

Taxiways allow airplanes to move from the landing point to hangars or terminal buildings. The vibrant blue lights you’ll see are taxiway edge lights. Similar to runway edge lights, they mark the edge of the taxiway. They are typically spaced between 15 and 60 meters apart.

For airfields with low visibility, these lights are frequently accompanied by green or blue centreline lighting. If visibility is good but flights operate at night, these two types of lighting may also be combined.

Stop bar lights

When you notice a row of steadily burning red lights, embedded into the pavement across the entire airfield, you’ve caught sight of the stop bar lights. Elevated red lights can also be used for low visibility conditions. These lights are controlled and indicate that the aircraft should wait. Once air traffic control gives clearance, the stop bar lights are turned off and the taxiway centreline’s lead on lights turn on instead. This indicates to the pilot that they may depart.

Essential safety tools

It’s clear that airfield lighting is vital for aircraft to take off, land, and taxi safely. As airports become modernized and more aircraft pass through, specialized airfield ground lighting becomes more important as an essential safety tool. Next time you’re about to take a flight, you can be confident that the lights you see are keeping you and your fellow passengers safe.