Your aircraft has radio failure at night and you need to land. (Pilot Controlled Lighting)


September 21, 2021

Words by Red Horse Aviation

You experience radio failure during a night flight and you need to land, and SOON!...

As we head into fall and soon into winter, the days are beginning to get shorter. That means that you maybe out flying after sunset, at least in the lower 48 states. Flying in Alaska during fall, winter, even early spring is a whole different story. But, this may happen at anytime, anywhere during the year.

There are multiple scenarios where a pilot may be unable to use the Pilot Controlled Lighting (PCL) at a non-towered airport. A non-towered airport does not have an operating Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower. However, two-way radio communication is not required, but very highly recommended for flight safety. These airports do have a radio frequency to provide any airport advisories. Use the Chart Supplement for specific information on the use of PCL for any given airport, towered or non-towered.

Since radios may fail in multiple ways, it is good practice to continue attempting to communicate, or in this case, continue attempting to activate the Pilot Controlled Lighting (PCL), if possible. For instance, if the radio is capable of transmitting an un-modulated carrier frequency, this may be sufficient to trigger the lighting system even though the pilot is unable to communicate with Air Traffic Control (ATC).

FAR 91.3 Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command.

Places the final authority on the safe operation of the airplane on the Pilot in Command (PIC).

The PIC must determine if landing at an unlit airport is safe, or constitutes an emergency. If the PIC determines it is unsafe, and has the resources to divert to a towered airport i.e. (fuel, weather, etc.), then he should divert and land with the use of light gun signals from the ATC tower.

Refer to the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), Chapter 6, Section 4 and Federal Aeronautical Regulation (FAR) 91.185 and 91.125.