Although flying is without a doubt the safest way to travel, we are all aware that dangers still exist. One of the main reasons why passengers can enjoy reliable flights free from any mistakes is that engineers and technical designers spend a great deal of time during the construction of any aircraft. However, what occurs on the ground is just as important. It has been shown that a staggering 47 per cent of all accidents occur during landings or final approaches. A great deal of thought has therefore gone into the manufacture, design and installation of runway lighting systems. How do these lights function and what are their primary purposes?
Runway and Airstrip Lighting Systems at a Glance
In truth, the systems are actually quite complicated and it takes a great deal of training to understand what each light signifies and how it pertains to the movement of an aircraft. For the sake of brevity and clarity, we will break typical runway lights down into a handful of categories. These are:
- Runway end identifier lights
- Edge lighting systems
- Centreline lighting systems
- Touchdown lights
Each of these is obviously intended to provide very specific information to the pilot upon approach. For example, runway end identifier lights (REILs) distinguish the runway from other nearby taxiways (this is particularly important during evenings or when poor weather conditions are present).
Edge lighting systems identify the outer boundaries of each side of the runway. They also are an indicator of length. The lights change between white, yellow and red depending upon how much tarmac remains.
Centreline lighting fixtures are placed at intervals of 50 feet. They help to guide the direction of the final approach and much like edge lighting systems, they serve as a distance indicator. During the final 1,000 feet of pavement, the lights will turn red to highlight that the end of the runway is nearing.
Touchdown lights are primarily meant to illuminate the optimum landing zone within a runway. They are placed on either side of the centreline fixtures and they generally extend to the halfway point of the runway.
The Preventative Edge
There are only a handful of examples of the types of runway lights currently utilised within airports. As many experts point out, such lights are the best line of defence in terms of accidents and other serious incidents. Every unit must be durable and able to withstand harsh conditions on a regular basis. This is why there is simply no room for second-best options when the lives of hundreds of passengers are at stake during any given moment.
The technology behind airport runway lighting continues to evolve and even more targeted solutions will be available in the future. Thanks to these modern marvels, the number of accidents continues to decrease every year. Passengers can now enjoy greater levels of safety than ever before.