Light Up the World (or at least the Runway!)

An intriguing discussion started early this week in SL Aviation about aircraft lighting rules (yes an actual aviation topic!). The basis of the conversation was about proper use of lighting, such as when to use certain lights, and more importantly, when NOT to use certain lights. The overarching theme of this discussion demonstrated some disagreement even among many in the group with live aviation experience.

Now, I am not an aviation expert, nor do I play one on TV. But I do play one in SL and am much interested in getting it right. So thanks to the powers of Google, some pointing in the right direction by a couple of the members of the SL aviation community, and a desire to publish a new article this week while the topic was still fresh, I set out to find the answers as they are written. The sources of the information I am presenting is based primarily on FAA documentation and information about the runway collision of US Airways flight 1493 with Skywest flight 5569 at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in February 1991 (NTSB communications and National Geographic special).

There were really two key points of confusion during the discussion:

  • Beacon Light
  • Strobe Lights

The key to the confusion likely resulted from a change of rules concerning aircraft lighting that was recommended (and in the case of strobe lights apparently implemented) as a result of the 1991 accident. The NTSB issued Air Safety Recommendation A-21-112 which reads as follows (emphasis added, typos not corrected):

THE NTSB RECOMMENDS THAT THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: EVALUATE AND IMPLEMENT, AS APPROPRIATE, SUITABLE MEANS FOR ENCHANCING THE CONSPICUITY OF AIRCRAFT ON AIRPORT SURFACES DURING NIGHT OR PERIODS OF REDUCED VISIBILITY. INCLUDE IN THIS EFFORT MEASURES, SUCH AS THE DISPLACEMENT OF AN AIRCRAFT AWAY FROM THE RUNWAY CENTERLINE, WHERE APPLICABLE, AND THE USE OF CONSPICUITY ENHANCEMENTS, SUCH AS HIGH-INTENSITY STROBE LIGHTING AND LOGO LIGHTING BY AIRCRAFT ON ACTIVE RUNWAYS, AND ENCOURAGE OPERATORS OF AIRPLANES CERTIFICATED PRIOR TO SEPTEMBER 1, 1977, TO UPGRADE THEIR AIRPLANES TO THE PRESENT HIGHER INTENSITY STANDARDS FOR ANTICOLLISION LIGHT INSTALLATIONS.”

The only guidance from CFR I was able to locate was 14 CFR Section 91.209 which reads:

No person may: (b) Operate an aircraft that is equipped with an anticollision light system, unless it has lighted anticollision lights. However, the anticollision lights need not be lighted when the pilot-in-command determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to turn the lights off.

This seems to leave a lot of discretion to the pilot in command in most cases. The Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, Appendix 1 -Runway Incursion Avoidance, along with the NTSB finding above, would seem to remove that discretion when it comes to the runway:

  • Crossing a runway—illuminate all external lights when crossing a runway. You should consider any possible adverse affects that illuminating the forward facing lights may have on the vision of other pilots or ground personnel during runway crossings.
  • “Line up and wait”—when entering the departure runway without takeoff clearance, turn on all exterior lights (except landing lights) to make your aircraft more conspicuous.

Below is a table from Appendix 1 which shows the recommended lighting usage. My take-away from the pilot discretion vs the NTSB finding is that in the table below, pilot discretion really only applies to taxiing. On the runway, turn on every external light you have except for the landing light. When cleared for takeoff, turn it on too.

AircraftLightUsage

The handbook contains bullet points following this table with more specifics. Will leave that to your perusal.

In summary, it appears much of the aircraft light usage rules are more guidance than codified law except for 14 CFR Section 91.209 which is quite brief. Guidance and common sense from the above information therefore seems to line up like this:

  1. Turn on the beacon before starting the engine.
  2. Turn on navigation lights, logo lights and taxi light if equipped before taxiing.
  3. Turn on everything but the landing light before entering the runway (including crossing runway).
  4. Turn on the landing light when cleared for departure.
  5. Keep all lights on below 10,000 feet unless poor weather conditions cause light issues.
  6. Strobes optional above 10,000 unless poor weather conditions make them a hazard.
  7. Turn strobes and landing light off as soon as you clear runway after landing.
  8. Keep beacon and navigation lights on until engine is shut down.

The final caveat to this is, that all of this is based on the standards set in the US, by the FAA and the NTSB.  Some of these “rules” differ under different jurisdictions. And “handbooks” don’t qualify as legal references.

What does this mean for SL Aviation?  Simple. Remember, in the end we are here to have fun. Don’t make it too complex. If you want to understand the guidelines and implement them for your flying in SL, check out the full Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. Until digging into this issue I was not aware of this. But it is a wealth of information.

For SL, of course you would need to translate things into SL equivalents. 10,000 feet for example might turn into “three or four sims out”, or 175 meters above the runway.

Above all…enjoy the experience.  Whether you just want to fly around, or you want to use realism to add to your experience, do what works for you. That’s what we’re here for.

References

NTSB Safety Recommendations – US Air 1493 vs Skywest 5549

NTSB Summary of Safety Recommendations related to US Airways 1493

FAR|AIM Educational Reference 4-3-23 Use of Aircraft Lights

Natl Geo Video: Air Crash Investigations – US Airways 1493 (Lights reference begins at 37:15)

14 CFR 91.209 – Aircraft lights

Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge – Appendix 1

FAA Aeronautical Informtation Manual

3 thoughts on “Light Up the World (or at least the Runway!)

  1. As a person getting my RL Helicopter Pilot license and as a person who knows MANY real life pilots, I really don’t care how unpopular my opinion makes me here but a great deal of people need a wake-up call — Flying in Second Life has absolutely nothing to do with the FAA. They would laugh you off the phone.

    It would seem to me that if you’re going to expect lighting regulations follow FAA rules you need to be prepared to follow ALL FAA rules or remember what you’re talking about is a bunch of people – 90% without RL pilot licenses playing a game in Second Life. Second life isn’t even a registered flight simulator and it has nothing at all to do with the way RL flying occurs. These generous people all over Second Life have built airports to play on.. nothing more.

    To the people who are going on and on about this ridiculous notion of following FAA rules like you actually fly IRL: Are you prepared to get a RL pilot license (10s of 1000s of RL $$$ not Ls) – FAA requirement. Are you prepared to go before a review board every time you crash or break any rule anywhere? – FAA requirement. Are you prepared to, at least once a year submit to drug testing to ensure you are drug free? – FAA requirement. How about random tests for alcohol? No? How about basics.. ensuring you have working fire extinguishers, parachutes at the ready, or a black box installed, and proof of regular maintenance? No? Flight Logs? are we keeping those in compliance with FAA regulations and presenting them when asked to prove we have the hours to fly out of certain airports or to be able to fly at night? — FAA regulations. Nope didn’t think so? You can’t pick and choose what rules to follow. You must follow them all. Afterall, its the FAA rules you want followed here. Are you prepared to follow every single rule? So you can legitimately stand and quote FAA rules?

    People don’t even use the towers all the time. How would the FAA respond to a pilot landing in an airport with a tower and not talking to them at all? Or even attempting, as required by FAA regulations, to contact pilots on the right frequency to co-ordinate landings in the event the tower is down or there simply isn’t one? – FAA regulation. Shall the people who don’t use towers be stripped of their non-existent pilot licenses and be grounded forever? The FAA would do that.

    How incredibly ridiculous it is to think any FAA rule applies to flying in Second Life. The only “rule” that applies to Second Life is .. if you are using a privately owned sim you must follow the rules of that sim, even if they change every hour or go get your own sim and do it differently. Failing that, quoting the FAA without the willingness to follow ALL FAA regulations is a waste of time and effort for everyone. Just be grateful you get to play.

    Like

  2. Your comments are deep and passionate. An appropriate reply is actually worthy of a new article on this subject. So I will do one shortly. In the interest of topic continuity, I’ll ask that responses to this be saved for the publication of this new article, which I will do today and keep the rest of this thread on the topic of aircraft lighting.

    Thank you for your reply.

    Like

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