Airplane Equipment and Lighting

Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 91 specifies the basic minimum airplane equipment that is required for night flight. This equipment includes only basic instruments, lights, electrical energy source, and spare fuses.


The standard instruments required by 14 CFR part 91 for instrument flight are a valuable asset for aircraft control at night. Title 14 CFR part 91 specifies that during the period from sunset to sunrise operating aircraft are required to have a functioning anti-collision light system, including a flashing or rotating beacon and position lights. The anti-collision lights however need not be lighted when the pilot in command (PIC) determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to turn the lights off. Airplane position lights are arranged similar to those of boats and ships. A red light is positioned on the left wingtip, a green light on the right wingtip, and a white light on the tail. [Figure 10-2]

Figure 10-2. Position lights.

Figure 10-2. Position lights.

This arrangement provides a means to determine the general direction of movement of other airplanes in flight. If both a red and green light of another aircraft are observed, and the red light is on the left and the green to the right, the airplane is flying the same direction. Care must be taken not to overtake the other aircraft and maintain clearance. If red were on the right and green to the left, the airplane could be on a collision course.

Landing lights are not only useful for taxi, takeoffs, and landings, but also provide a means by which airplanes can be seen at night by other pilots. Pilots are encouraged to turn on their landing lights when operating within 10 miles of an airport and below 10,000 feet. Operation lights on applies to both day and night or in conditions of reduced visibility. This should also be done in areas where flocks of birds may be expected.

Although turning on aircraft lights supports the “see and be seen” concept, do not become complacent about keeping a sharp lookout for other aircraft. Most aircraft lights blend in with the stars or the lights of the cities at night and go unnoticed unless a conscious effort is made to distinguish them from other lights.