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Radio Failure at Night and Pilot Controlled Lighting (SBFT)

Radio failure during flight can be a very stressful and uneasy thing, especially when it is time to land at an airport. Possibly one of the most stressful times to loss, a radio during flight is losing at night, and the airport you are planning on landing at is a non-controlled airport. Airports have Pilot Controlled Lighting (PCL), which are operated by the aircraft radios on the airports Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF).

There are multiple scenarios where a pilot may be unable to use the PCL at a non-towered airport.


  • Cessna 182


  • Private Pilot with 700 hours total time

  • Not Instrument Rated



You, the pilot in command (PIC) and some friends are flying back home from a winter holiday weekend ski trip. You departed Lake Tahoe airport (TVL) late Sunday evening around 1600L (1200Z) and you are en-route back to French Valley (F70), the sun has already gone down, and you are still in communication with Oakland Center with over 230NM to fly.


  • Weather for the night - clear skies and 10SM visibility.

  • Wind – light and variable

  • NOTAMs – n/a


It is the perfect night and VFR conditions to go flying.

As you begin to get closer to the French Valley airport, you tune in to the AWOS to get the weather and remarks, you notice after a couple minutes the radio is silent. You contact SoCal approach to get weather for the airport and let ATC know about the AWOS not transmitting. You receive no communication from SoCal approach, and you realize you had radio failure.

You begin to worry and stress, you ask yourself, how do I, land at an airport with no operating radios to turn on the runway lights at night, the other airports nearby also have PCL.

What should you do? 


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Thinks to remember:

  • Part 91.185 states to maintain VFR conditions during radio failure. Since the above scenario, we are flying VFR.

  • Use the Chart Supplement for specific information on the use of PCL for a given airport.

  • Refer to the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), Chapter 6, Section 4.

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