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During taxi, the taxi lights are used, and I think the landing lights are required to be used up to 10.000 feet for all commercial flights.

However, my question is regarding the abovementioned lights: beacon, anti-collision, strobe, logo, and navigation lights. When are they to be used, and when should they not be used? What is the meaning and purpose of each one?

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The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) is a great place to look for questions like this, and has this on the subject:

4-3-23. Use of Aircraft Lights

a. Aircraft position lights are required to be lighted on aircraft operated on the surface and in flight from sunset to sunrise. In addition, aircraft equipped with an anti-collision light system are required to operate that light system during all types of operations (day and night). However, during any adverse meteorological conditions, the pilot-in-command may determine that the anti-collision lights should be turned off when their light output would constitute a hazard to safety (14 CFR Section 91.209). Supplementary strobe lights should be turned off on the ground when they adversely affect ground personnel or other pilots, and in flight when there are adverse reflection from clouds.

b. An aircraft anti-collision light system can use one or more rotating beacons and/or strobe lights, be colored either red or white, and have different (higher than minimum) intensities when compared to other aircraft. Many aircraft have both a rotating beacon and a strobe light system.

c. The FAA has a voluntary pilot safety program, Operation Lights On, to enhance the see-and-avoid concept. Pilots are encouraged to turn on their landing lights during takeoff; i.e., either after takeoff clearance has been received or when beginning takeoff roll. Pilots are further encouraged to turn on their landing lights when operating below 10,000 feet, day or night, especially when operating within 10 miles of any airport, or in conditions of reduced visibility and in areas where flocks of birds may be expected, i.e., coastal areas, lake areas, around refuse dumps, etc. Although turning on aircraft lights does enhance the see-and-avoid concept, pilots should not become complacent about keeping a sharp lookout for other aircraft. Not all aircraft are equipped with lights and some pilots may not have their lights turned on. Aircraft manufacturer's recommendations for operation of landing lights and electrical systems should be observed.

d. Prop and jet blast forces generated by large aircraft have overturned or damaged several smaller aircraft taxiing behind them. To avoid similar results, and in the interest of preventing upsets and injuries to ground personnel from such forces, the FAA recommends that air carriers and commercial operators turn on their rotating beacons anytime their aircraft engines are in operation. General aviation pilots using rotating beacon equipped aircraft are also encouraged to participate in this program which is designed to alert others to the potential hazard. Since this is a voluntary program, exercise caution and do not rely solely on the rotating beacon as an indication that aircraft engines are in operation.

e. Prior to commencing taxi, it is recommended to turn on navigation, position, anti­collision, and logo lights (if equipped). To signal intent to other pilots, consider turning on the taxi light when the aircraft is moving or intending to move on the ground, and turning it off when stopped or yielding to other ground traffic. Strobe lights should not be illuminated during taxi if they will adversely affect the vision of other pilots or ground personnel.

f. At the discretion of the pilot­in­command, all exterior lights should be illuminated when taxiing on or across any runway. This increases the conspicuousness of the aircraft to controllers and other pilots approaching to land, taxiing, or crossing the runway. Pilots should comply with any equipment operating limitations and consider the effects of landing and strobe lights on other aircraft in their vicinity.

g. When entering the departure runway for takeoff or to “line up and wait,” all lights, except for landing lights, should be illuminated to make the aircraft conspicuous to ATC and other aircraft on approach. Landing lights should be turned on when takeoff clearance is received or when commencing takeoff roll at an airport without an operating control tower.

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  • $\begingroup$ @Haris: Thanks, just choose the one that answers your question the best and accept it! Up-vote the others that you think are helpful as well, and that's the best that you can do. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Dec 19 '13 at 12:39
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Here are some types of lights:

  1. A beacon is a light that flashes slowly.
  2. Strobes are the bright white lights that flash about once per second.
  3. Navigation lights are the red, green, and white lights that are on continuously, like on a boat.
  4. Logo lights are lights used to light up something on the side of the plane, and their use is optional.

Strobes and beacons are considered anti-collision lights.

Anti-collision lights, if the plane has them, should be used whenever the engine is running except when they interfere with ground operations. Strobes do not have to be used all the time if a beacon is on.

Navigation lights should be used during night operations.

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  • $\begingroup$ Where a beacon is present, general practice (and according to Lnafziger's quote from the AIM, FAA recommendation) seems to be to turn off strobes when on the ground and not on a runway. $\endgroup$ – reirab Nov 13 '14 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ Would it be correct to say that logo lights are a sort of vanity thing for airlines, and don't have any sort of safety purpose? As such, is there any condition under which they are required to be extinguished - when their light might contribute to a safety issue? $\endgroup$ – Anthony X Nov 13 '15 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ @AnthonyX It can be helpful for air traffic controllers and other pilots to be able to see the logos on other aircraft for identification purposes. This helps to prevent confusing one aircraft with another (though it may be less helpful as a distinguishing factor in an airport like Atlanta where there are 200 aircraft on the ground and 180 of them are painted in Delta livery.) Logo lights are generally aimed at your own aircraft, so it would be unusual for them to pose a safety issue. Also, see Ralph's answer regarding visibility. $\endgroup$ – reirab Dec 18 '15 at 16:36
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Specifically on Logo Lights:

They're useless during the day, but they make the aircraft much easier to see from the side at night, both when taxiing and in flight. Different carriers will have different rules; one such rule is at night + below 18,000': logo light on. Above 18,000' and/or during the day, logo light off.

Perhaps the greatest benefit to the Logo Light is when crossing a runway -- gives dramatically more lit-up surface for somebody at the 3 or 9 o'clock position to see (i.e. the pilot who is on the runway that you're crossing).

That, and it's nice marketing to see all your company's aircraft sitting next to each other at their gates, tails all lit up & looking pretty!

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FARs are available online here.

91.205 says for night flight, you need position lights (the red, green, white lights), anti-collision lights, and a landing light if flown for hire.

IIRC, it is customary, but not required, to activate the flashing red beacon any time the engine is running, as a warning to people on the ground. This might be mentioned in the AIM, but I'm pretty sure it's not in the FARs.

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    $\begingroup$ I just read a comment by an FAA official (who's titles include CFII, where she recommends that the rotating beacon power switch always be left in the ON position, as that can be a helpful totemic reminder that you've inadvertently left your planes master switch on after tie down. $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Jul 1 '14 at 13:12
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In addition to the FAR and AIM, most commercial operators (and savvy private operators) follow guidance in Advisory Circulars. These are voluntary procedures that describe recommendations on best practices to stay legal and safe.

Since you specifically mention commercial operations, AC 120-74b is worth a read. It applies only to taxi procedures but there are hundreds of other ACs about all kinds of topics. Beginning on page 11 there are several pages about lights on the ground:

(a) Engines Running. Turn on the rotating beacon whenever an engine is running.

(b) Taxiing. Prior to commencing taxi, turn on navigation, position, anti-collision, and logo lights, if available. To signal intent to other pilots, turn on the taxi light when the aircraft is moving or intending to move on the ground, and turn it off when stopped or yielding or as a consideration to other pilots or ground personnel. Strobe lights should not be illuminated during taxi if they will adversely affect the vision of other pilots or ground personnel.

(c) Crossing a Runway. All exterior lights should be illuminated when crossing a runway.

There is a corresponding AC created toward flight training and single pilot ops as well.

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