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Lights on a plane: What do they do?

Posted by Cirrus Aviation on Sep 8, 2015 4:08:00 PM

Photo: flickr/Aero Icarus

Car lights are pretty simple… compared to ones on an airplane.

That’s because a car or truck can travel in just two directions on a road. Aircraft, however, are capable of moving in several directions, including up and down.

Planes must be highly visible and quite a few different lights are used for safety. Here’s a look at how they’re used and why planes tend to be lit up like a Christmas tree.


Lights on the nose gear and wings shine the way at night for a plane on the ground moving toward a runway or gate.


Most aircraft have a red light on the left wing, green light on the right wing and white light on the tail. These colored lights remain on day or night and enable other pilots to determine the direction a plane is traveling. A pilot must allow the right-of-way to a nearby aircraft if its red light is closest.


This white light is located on the nose of a plane and can be seen for miles. Landing lights project a beam like a flashlight so pilots can see the runway during takeoffs and landings. Care must be taken by pilots when using these very bright lights. On approach they can cause retina damage to a person on the ground.


Intended to draw the attention of other pilots to avoid a collision in busy skies, these flashing lights are on the fuselage of large aircraft and on the wings of smaller planes.

Rotating beacon

These red lights are on the bottom of the fuselage and top of the aircraft. They flash as a warning to ground personnel that a plane’s engines are running.

So how do pilots control all these lights?

The light-switch panel is located in the cockpit within easy reach. Many planes have co-pilots who share the duty of flying the plane, including turning the proper lights on and off at the right times. Call (702)-472-9714 to book your private jet charter.

Topics: Insider, Jet Charter Educational