When is it easier for a pilot to perform a "good" touchdown: during daytime or nighttime?

Considering typical flights for 737s to holiday destinations so mostly small airports with a single runway.

In the above, "good" is defined as a firm landing with both rear wheels simultaneously on the ground.

During the night the runway is brightly lit and all the guiding lights are clearly visible, but the actual tarmac is more difficult to spot. During the day there is flare from the sun and the lights are less visible but on the other hand the tarmac is clearly visible.

  • $\begingroup$ Newbie pilots train during the day at first, and night flying/landing is a later topic. That alone says daytime is easier. $\endgroup$
    – Criggie
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 1:59

3 Answers 3


I'm going to answer this in somewhat of a more general sense but first let's clear up a few things.

During the night the runway is brightly lit and all the guiding lights are clearly visible, but the actual tarmac is more difficult to spot.

This is not always the case. Maybe at large international airports the runway is quite well lit with lots of extra lights, but there are plenty of airports in the US that are poorly lit (granted not all of them service commercial traffic); it's worth noting that not all runways are well lit. Runway lighting varies quite a bit as well.

During the day there is flare from the sun

Only if the sun is right in front of you, there are lots of runway directions and you may often land with the sun behind you.

...and the lights are less visible but on the other hand the tarmac is clearly visible.

The lights are not visible at all, they are off, but yes the tarmac is easy to see during the day.

A "good" landing by a proficient pilot should not be greatly affected by day or night conditions. What will affect a landing is the prevailing wind and weather conditions. Generally speaking wind (and thermal activity) dies down at night so the air is far more calm. In my experience night landings are smoother because of this. During a hot summer day, even in super clear weather, with the wind whipping and the clouds kicking thermals around you are bound to have a "fun" approach.
(from the FAA's handbook on night operations)

Night approaches and landings do have some advantages over daytime approaches, as the air is generally smoother and the disruptive effects of turbulence and excessive crosswinds are often absent

More recently LED light technology has allowed some extremely bright landing lights to be installed on even the smallest of aircraft, this has greatly increased pilot visibility on short final at night.

  • $\begingroup$ Thus with recent development in the lightning technology it is in general easier to land during nighttime given that it is; more quiet in the air and the air itself is calmer ? $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2018 at 7:22

Depth perception is always better in daylight. You can see the entire surface and surroundings, not just a little spotlit patch ahead of you, which fades to black, then with bright lights in your peripheral vision. Landing at night is a little bit like landing with tunnel vision.


I wouldn’t say one is easier than the other. Obviously for nighttime, the runway needs to be illuminated or pilot controlled lighting available to properly spot and line up with the runway as well as for depth perception needed for the round-out (flare).

What is not readily available is the additional depth perception offered by daylight flying as well as terrain and obstacle identification and avoidance that is offere during daylight operations. There have been plenty of accidents which have happened where a pilot has become accustomed to flying shallow approaches into an airport, then attempting to do so at night and struck terrain, buildings, sailboat masts, wires, etc because they were hidden in the darkness. It’s often recommended that you fly a little higher approach at night into an unknown or previously unvisited airfield at night and thoroughly review the chart supplements for the airport in question as part of your preflight.

Optical illusions are also more prevalent at night than day. Airfields with runways on an incline or sloping gradient will not be readily recognizable at night. Also runways which are narrow present hazards during roundout, particularly if the pilot is used to landing on wide runways which may make him misjudge his height above the runway during round out. Runway condition is another critical factor and it may be unadvisable to land on a runway which is not paved or is known to be soft or uneven. Runway incursion by vehicles, people or animals is another hazard which also should be anticipated prior to flight. Again the A/FD should be consulted and the width, layout and condition of the runway should be verified and anticipated as part of a preflight.

Often the most difficult thing about night ops is during arrival into the terminal area around the airport. It’s often very difficult to spot an airport, particularly in big cities and urban environments from the ground clutter and nearby city lights. Roads, rectangular, lighted parking lots, etc can often be mistaken for runways and it can be misleading. Often times the intensity of the runway lighting is less than that of the surrounding buildings and roads and most pilots will intitially visually acquire an airport from the flash of the rotating beacon light. It can also be especially difficult in a city like Wichita, KS with multiple airports clustered together or make use of runways aligned in the same direction. Again it’s helpful to study a sectional chart to see where the airport is located in a particular city, the direction you anticipate arriving at said airport in order to determine how you will maneuver to set up in the pattern. Often knowing the general area of a city where the airport should be will help you locate the rotating beacon in the ground clutter.

As for actually executing a landing at night on a properly lit runway, the actual act is not that different from doing it during daytime. It also has some additional benefits in that the airspace and traffic around the airport is usually less congested that during daytime operations and the air is usually smoother at night than during the day. But the limitations on visibility, peripheral field of view and darkness add in new considerations that a pilot needs to account for.

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I upvoted your answer, I very much agree with your very first sentence. One caveat, though, "...depth perception needed for the round-out." While more often true than not, there are techniques that don't use depth perception for the round-out. Glassy water landings in seaplanes come to mind. You really can't accurately judge your height above glassy water. Also, you don't need depth perception when using a radar altimeter and landing by-the-numbers so to speak. See talking-of-flying.com#landing747 for an example. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Commented May 28, 2018 at 23:22
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Might be helpful to describe what is "roundout"? $\endgroup$ Commented May 29, 2018 at 9:06

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