Airplanes don’t have headlights in the conventional sense as you see on cars and motorbikes, but they do have landing lights as well as several other illuminations.

Aircraft lighting includes navigation lights, anti-collision beacon lights, strobe lights, and taxi lights, to name a few. These are used for navigation, when taxing on the ground, to improve visibility during flight, and for safety purposes.

When Pilots Use Landing Lights

Judging by their name, it’s clear what the purpose of landing lights is. They are designed to enhance visibility during the landing approach. This is so people, vehicles, and other objects on the runway can be spotted and avoided.

Landing lights also reduce the likelihood of two airplanes colliding when landing on the runway and are often used during the day too. This is again to make it easier to spot planes and avoid collisions. They are rarely used in cruise flight, as the reflection or glare can pose a danger to pilots.

In short, landing lights are used for the following purposes:

  • Takeoffs and landings
  • Flights below 10,000 feet
  • When flying in crowded airspace
  • To enhance visibility to other aircraft
  • When changing flight levels
  • For emergencies, to communicate with ground personnel or other aircraft

Where Landing Lights Are Located

On vehicles, headlights are always found at the front. On planes, however, the location varies. They may be located along the forward fuselage, in the outboard wing, or in the wing root.

The number of landing lights an airplane has can also vary, with some having multiple sets across different locations, whereas others have just a set in one location.

Not All Airplanes Are Required to Have Landing Lights

Interestingly, not all airplanes are required to be equipped with landing lights.

While the FAA encourages landing lights to be used for takeoffs and landings, for flights below 10,000 feet, and within ten nautical miles of an airport, there is no regulation that explicitly requires this.

Regulations (CFR 14 and FAR Part 91.205) only state that commercial airplanes flying at night are to be equipped with and use landing lights.

There is no requirement for civil airplanes or military planes to use landing lights.

Landing Lights Are Very Bright

Landing lights are extremely powerful and bright. In fact, they are typically equipped with 600-watt bulbs which make them up to 10x as powerful as car headlights. They are so bright that the landing lights of a large aircraft can be spotted by another aircraft from over 100 miles away.

Outside of aviation, landing lights (also known as ACLs -“Air Craft Lamps”) are used for concert environments due to their intense brightness.

Landing lights are so bright that they are not allowed to be used when near an airport gate or when taxiing as they can cause flash blindness to other pilots and ground personnel.

Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.

Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.

Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.