Why Do Aircraft Use External Lights

Aircraft are equipped with various lights for safety, navigation, visibility, and ground taxiing purposes. Moreover, these lights play a crucial role throughout an aircraft’s journey, from take-off to touchdown. Modern airplanes use two basic types of lights for exterior illumination, those of which are categorized as solid and flashing lights, and each is designed and installed to perform specific functions. However, depending on the aircraft model, installed lights can have slight differences based on a vehicle’s operation and manufacturer. In this blog, to better understand why planes use exterior lights, we will briefly discuss their purpose in detail.

Anti-Collision Lights

Anti-collision lighting systems typically consist of beacons and strobe lights to improve aircraft visibility on the ground and in the air to mitigate any possible chance of collision. These lights are usually fitted on the tail or top of the fuselage to prevent any kind of distraction for crewmen and ground staff.

Previously, aircraft used to rely on tungsten bulbs; however, LEDs are now a modern option to the former. Below is a brief description of the roles and importance two basic types of flashing lights play on aircraft:

  1. Beacons: Beacons are red blinking lights installed on the top and bottom of the fuselage of larger passenger-carrying aircraft. Their purpose is to indicate and alert the ground staff that aircraft engines are running, shutting down, or when aircraft are about to move. These lights are attached to a rotating mechanism to create a flashing effect, increasing the chances of being noticed. Beacon lights are relatively bright and efficient enough to identify planes even in overcast weather conditions
  2. Strobe Lights: Strobe lights or white anti-collision lights are located on the farthest point (tips) on the wings of an aircraft. These are one of the brightest lights on an airplane and are only used during flight or while approaching the runway.  Pilots often turn off strobe lights in foggy or cloudy weather to avoid reflection from water particles that may obstruct their vision in such conditions.

Other Essential Lights on Aircraft

Navigation Lights: Navigation lights are installed to determine the position of an aircraft. These primary lights are located on the left (red light) and right (green light) wingtips, along with an additional white light at the rear end of an aircraft. Pilots flying at night can easily spot these lights to avoid collisions and mishaps.

Landing Lights: Landing lights are among the brightest and most powerful lights installed on an aircraft, and they are mounted on the wing root or somewhere beneath the fuselage. These lights are always ground-facing to illuminate the runway to promote safe and smooth landing procedures.

Taxi Lights: As their name suggests, taxi lights are installed to light up the runway or ground at night. These lights are located on the landing gear strut for convenient on-ground movement in the dark. Alternatively, landing lights can also be used in lieu of taxi lights.

Runway Turnoff Lights: These lights are installed to illuminate runway exits and assist pilots on turns, and they are located on wing roots on either side of an aircraft.

Logo Lights: Initially installed for marketing purposes, logo lights are located on horizontal stabilizers pointing upward to light up the airline logo; however, they are not mandatory, but can serve to identify specific aircraft.

Wing Inspection Lights: Wing illumination or inspection lights are installed to light up wings during on-ground operations. These lights are used to aid crew and ground staff when performing inspections before and after every flight.


Whether regular maintenance calls for replacing damaged or warn aircraft lighting, turn to NSN Unlimited for all of your aviation part needs. Owned and operated by ASAP Semiconductor, NSN Unlimited is a trusted distributor for the aerospace, defense, electronic, and industrial sectors, and provides access to over 2 billion aircraft parts, bearings, fasteners, connectors, and much more. Moreover, we provide cost savings and rapid lead times on all orders! Available by phone or email, feel free to contact us at your earliest convenience; we are always happy to help. Our market experts are available to assist you with the best possible resources, 24/7x365.


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