Online Ground School (Private Pilot)

Lesson 14.4:  Airport Lighting

Airport Lighting

     Reference: ACS PA.III.A.K1 - K9, PA.III.B.K1 - K4 PHAK Chapter 14

Airport lighting is used at the majority of airports for night operation.  Airports use a standardized lighting system so they are all the same, especially for runway and taxiway lighting. In this section we will discuss the lighting system.

  • Airport Beacons

  • Approach Light Systems

  • Runway & Taxiway lights

  • Control of Airport Lights

Airport Beacons

Beacon lights are used to help identify an airport and the type of airport at night.  The beacons are operated from dusk until dawn, but may also be operated if the weather is below VFR minimums.  Different combination of light colors identifies the type of airport.

  • Civilian land airport - flashing white and green

  • Water airport (seaport) - flashing white and yellow

  • Heliport - flashing white, yellow and green

  • Military - two quick flashing white with a green flash


  • VFR minimum – ceiling less than 1,000 feet and visibility is less than 3 statute miles.


Approach Light Systems

Approach lights are used to transition from an instrument approach to a visual approach, and are used to aid pilots during a night VFR approach to landing. There are four types of systems, two of which are the main styles of approach light systems that you as a pilot will see in the majority of your flying, they are:

  • Visual Approach Slope Indicator (VASI) 

       This system gives a glide path, using a red and white light for both day and night approaches, and allows for         safe obstacle clearance. There are two different designs of the VASI, 2-bar and the 3-bar.

         2-bar VASI has a near and far light bar

         3-bar VASI has a near, middle and far light bar

  • Precision Approach Path Indicator (PAPI)

      This system is similar to that of the VASI, the difference is a PAPI system is set up in a row.  The PAPI is              located on the left side of the runway.

      During the day the PAPI can be seen four miles out, and at night ten miles out.


    This saying is a good way to remember the approach lighting system.


 “All Red your Dead, All White your High”

Runway/Taxiway Lighting

Runway lighting is used for the safe operation of landing and taking off at night.  Runway lights are arranged differently depending on how complex the runway is.

  • REIL (Runway End Identifier Lights)- are used to provide rapid identification of the approach end of a particular runway.

    • Pair of synchronized flashing light on both sides of the runway threshold.


  • Runway Edge Lights – are used to identify the edge of the runway during night and low visibility operation.

    • Runway edge lights are always white.  Except, instrument runways which have amber lights the last 2,000 feet of the runway.

    • End of runway lights are red.


  • In-Runway Lighting

    • Runway centerline lighting system (RCLS) –  lights alongside the centerline on some precision approach runways.

    • RCLS are white lights.  The next 2,000 feet light alternate white and red. The last 1,000 feet all centerline lights a red.


  • Taxiway Lights

    • They identify the edge of the taxiway during night and low visibility operation.

      • Taxiway edge lights are blue

    • Some taxiways have centerline lights

      • Taxiway centerline lights are green.


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