When a runway inspection determines that there are bulbs out on any of the runway or taxiway lighting fixtures, what is involved in changing them?

  • Does the runway/taxiway need to be shut down for all bulb changes? (Obviously for center line markers, but what about edge markers?)
  • What is involved in changing bulbs for any sort of landing system lighting? (i.e. ALS, PAPI, VASI, etc)

2 Answers 2


To answer your two questions:

  • Unless the runway is a very busy one, or the failure is such that it can have an adverse effect on the safety of operations, runways are not closed to replace failed lamps.
  • Bulbs are not changed in the field, with rare exceptions such as PAPIs. Typically, the maintenance team will have hot spares ready to be installed of every kind of fitting. In the event of a failure, they will replace the whole fitting, which can be done in a few minutes, and replace the bulb at the workshop.

The replacement of a fitting typically involves the isolating of the circuits, untorqueing and disconnection of failed fitting from circuit, connection of new or serviced fitting, torqueing, and powering circuit again.

In the case of PAPIs, the bulbs are replaced on site. The replacement is done by opening the PAPI box, and replacing the halogen bulb.

By the way, bulb changing is becoming obsolete with the wide adoption of LED airfield lighting.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. Do you have any references to support that statement? Changing the whole fixture out seems like much more work than just replacing a bulb. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Nov 27, 2016 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ On the contrary, changing the bulb would require you to remove the fitting anyway, plus the extra steps to open the fitting, replace the bulb, close back the fitting again... it actually takes more time. Furthermore, it is much more difficult to ensure the watertightness of the fitting. Replacing the whole fitting makes the complete process predictable and fail proof. You don't want to delay operations more than you need to because of a bulb... $\endgroup$
    – molgar
    Nov 27, 2016 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ LED lighting needs to be replaced too at times, just far less frequently. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Nov 28, 2016 at 7:16
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, but what I meant is that LED fittings do not have bulbs. $\endgroup$
    – molgar
    Nov 28, 2016 at 7:40

Runways are not closed for bulb changes. Closing a runway is a big hairy deal that is not something you do unless you have to.

Normally what happens if it is a multi-runway airport is that they wait until the runway is not being used because of cross wind conditions, then a guy in a yellow truck with flashing lights drives out and makes the replacement.

If there is only one runway, or if something has to be done to an active runway (like remove a turtle or something), then the FBO operator or tower just warns off any approaching aircraft on the CTAF while the dude in the yellow truck scoots out there and does it.

Normally they try to stay off the runway with the actual truck and minimize the time they are out there. So, for example, with a turtle what happens is the guy drives the truck on the grass until he is parallel with the turtle, then he leaves the truck's lights on, runs out, grabs the turtle, and runs off the runway again. He then drives the truck back (on the grass) and the FBO resumes operations.

  • $\begingroup$ Is a turtle a FOD risk? $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2015 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ @curious_cat I don't know, but sometimes they can get pretty big and you definitely don't want to run over one. $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2015 at 17:50
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Runways are not closed for bulb changes Ummm, actually sometimes they are. For example they don't generally change the threshold lighting lamps while aircraft are taking off or landing, and if you only have one runway you can bet your jetblast-blown behind the runway is closed until the crew is done changing the bulbs. It may only be closed for a few minutes, but it is most definitely closed and not available for takeoff or landing operations. $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Aug 12, 2015 at 18:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @TylerDurden Also with respect to the process for closing a runway via NOTAM, it's not at all complex. My example for Brookhaven could be handled with a few keystrokes (simply submit two NOTAMs stating RWY 13 CLSD and RWY 31 CLSD and cancel them when whatever condition requiring the closure is cleared). The (US) NOTAM system has been substantially upgraded since most of us started flying: with direct digital NOTAM submission for authorized persons (like airport managers/ops people) it's pretty dynamic and responsive these days. $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Aug 12, 2015 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @TylerDurden That's only partially correct: Temporary closures can be issued with immediate effect (Think about it: Entire AIRPORTS are sometimes temporarily closed with immediate effect due to accidents.) This is getting far afield of the topic of this question though, if you'd like to continue this discussion stop by chat and I'll be happy to continue talking about it. $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Aug 12, 2015 at 19:40

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