A comment on this website along with an answer for the same question added confusion to my mind. Before reading this, I thought taxi lights and landing lights were the same, which seems to be true is some cases. I thought those lights were used for approach, taxiing, and take off and were strong lights designed to light the floor in front of the aircraft in the darkest night. Moreover, the answer linked above speaks of exterior lighting.

Now, I got a serie of questions to clarify the role of those "exterior lighting":

  • What are the difference between them (landing lights, taxi lights, other exterior lights I never heard of)?
  • What purpose do they serve and when are they used? (Perhaps it is the same question)
  • Are all aircrafts equipped with?

3 Answers 3


There are basically two types of (exterior) lights in an aircraft- the navigational lights, which are required to be switched on from sunset until sunrise and other forms of exterior lights, which can be switched off at the pilot or operated only at some parts of the aircraft operation, like the landing/taxi lights.

A (non-exhaustive) list of aircraft lights:

  • Navigation lights All aircraft are equipped with a steady light near the leading edge of each wingtip. The starboard light is green while that on the port wing is red. The different colors make it possible for an outside observer, such as the pilot of another aircraft, to determine which direction the plane is flying. These are required to be on during operation (in night).

  • Navigation or Position lights In addition to the red and green lights, most large planes like airliners are also fitted with other steady white navigation lights in various locations like the trailing edges of each wingtip, horizontal tail and top of the vertical tail. The main purpose is to increase the visibility of aircraft from behind.

  • Anti-Collision Beacon lights These are are flashing (or strobe) light assemblies installed on the upper and lower fuselage of aircraft,used to improve visibility of the aircraft. These can be switched off at the discretion of the pilot under some conditions.

  • Strobe lights High-intensity strobe lights that flash a white-colored light are located on each wingtip. These flashing lights are very bright and intended to attract attention during flight. They are sometimes also used on the runway and during taxi to make the plane more conspicuous.

  • Logo lights These steady white lights on the surface of or at the tips of the horizontal stabilizer are used to illuminate the company's logo painted on the vertical tail. These are usually switched off in airports to improve the visibility of the aircraft.

Aircraft Lights

1) Navigation lights 2) Aft light 3) Anti-collision strobe lights 4) Logo light "Jet-liner's lights 1 N" by CC BY 3.0 via Commons.

  • Wing lights Many airliners feature lights along the root of the wing leading edge that can be used to illuminate the wing and engine pylons in flight. These lights may be used to make the plane more visible during takeoff and landing or to inspect the wings for damage in flight. Pilots can also use the wing lights to inspect the wings and slats for any ice accretion that might build up when flying through clouds.

  • Taxi lights A bright white lamp is located on the nose landing gear strut of most planes. This light is typically turned on whenever the aircraft is in motion on the ground for greater visibility during taxi, takeoff, and landing.

  • Landing lights Typically the brightest light in the aircraft, these are fitted on most planes (and helicopters) for enhanced visibility during the landing approach. These lights can also be used to illuminate the runway at poorly lit airports. They can be located in the wing root, in the outboard wing, or somewhere along the forward fuselage (the usual location incase of helicopters), with some aircraft having them in more than one location.

Boeing 787 lights

Boeing 787 Lights; Source: captalk.net

  • Runway Turnoff lights Usually located in the leading edge of the wing root, these bright white lamps are intended to provide side and forward lighting during taxi and when turning off the runway. These lights are most useful at poorly lit airports but are usually unnecessary. The lights can also be used in flight if greater visibility is required.

  • Wheel Well lights Some planes are equipped with additional lights in the nose and main gear wheel wells. These lights are provided primarily to assist ground personnel in making pre-flight inspections of a plane at night.

The image below shows the lights in a Boeing 737.

Boeing 737

Image from staticflickr.com


The difference between taxi and landing lights is similar to low and high beam lights in car. Landing lights are much brighter, which is needed to give sufficient visibility during high-speed take-off and landing roll and to make the plane visible from several miles away when in flight, but they would be blinding when used on the apron, so less powerful taxi lights are used when taxiing.

Ultra-light aircraft may not be equipped with any lights at all, so not all aircraft have them, but all aircraft that may be operated at night do. Small aircraft (like Cessna 172) often have the taxi and landing light installed together under one cover, but in most cases there are still two bulbs with different brightness.


Landing light

Typically the brightest light on an aircraft. It is like a giant headlight, illuminating the front.

Taxi light

Also a headlight, but not as strong as landing light.

Logo light / Wing light

These lights illuminate the wing or vertical tail surface of an aircraft.

enter image description here

Landing light is very, very bright. You turn it on when you want to see what's in front of the aircraft, or you want everybody to notice you. On a clear night you can easily spot an aircraft heading towards you with its landing light some 10 miles away. When you enter a runway, you turn on the landing lights as a way to shout "I'm here. Don't collide on me" to everybody. If every pilot turns on the landing light at the gate, some ground crews will sure get blinded sooner or later.

If you're on a runway, turn on everything.

If you're on a taxiway, turn off your landing light but keep your taxi light on. Lights like logo & wing light are optional.

Many aircrafts, especially the smaller ones, do not have wing lights. Some aircraft use the same light as landing & taxi light, in which case you should turn it on during taxi as well unless you want to taxi in the dark.


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