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Runway Light Colors, Explained

Do you know how far down the runway lights will change from white to yellow or red? Here's what you should know before your next flight...

Pavement-Assigned Colors

According to the FAA's most recent Airfield Standards publication, there are approximately 9 color combinations of lighting you'll find around runways and taxiways.

Boldmethod and FAA

Here's what else we found out from the FAA's AIM most recent Airfield Standards Guide...

Keeping Your Wheels On The Pavement

Runway edge lights are used to outline the edges of runways during periods of darkness or reduced visibility. These light systems are classified according to the intensity or brightness they are capable of producing: they are the High Intensity Runway Lights (HIRL), Medium Intensity Runway Lights (MIRL), and the Low Intensity Runway Lights (LIRL). The HIRL and MIRL systems have variable intensity controls, whereas the LIRLs normally have one intensity setting.

The runway edge lights are white. On instrument runways, yellow replaces white on the last 2,000 feet or half the runway length, whichever is less, to form a caution zone for landings. The lights marking the ends of the runway emit red light toward the runway to indicate the end of runway to a departing aircraft and emit green outward from the runway end to indicate the threshold to landing aircraft.

Live from the Flight Deck

Runway Centerline Lights...How Much Pavement Do You Have Left?

Runway centerline lights are spaced at 50-foot intervals on large precision runways to improve visibility. When viewed from the landing threshold, the runway centerline lights are white until the last 3,000 feet of the runway. The white lights begin to alternate with red for the next 2,000 feet, and for the last 1,000 feet of the runway, all centerline lights are red.

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Low Visibility? Touchdown Zone Lighting Helps With Your Flare And Touchdown

Touchdown zone lights are installed on some precision approach runways to indicate the touchdown zone when landing in reduced visibility conditions. They consist of two rows of "transverse light bars" symmetrically placed across the runway centerline. The system consists of steady-burning white lights which start 100 feet beyond the landing threshold and extend to 3,000 feet beyond the landing threshold or to the midpoint of the runway, whichever is less.

Boldmethod

Lead-On / Lead-Off Lights

Taxiway centerline lead-off lights provide visual guidance to pilots exiting the runway. They are color-coded to warn pilots and vehicle drivers that they are within the runway environment or ILS, whichever is more restrictive. Alternate green and yellow lights are installed, beginning with green, from the runway centerline to one centerline light position beyond the runway holding position or ILS critical area holding position.

Taxiway centerline lead-on lights provide visual guidance to persons entering the runway. These "lead-on" lights are also color-coded with the same color pattern as lead-off lights to warn pilots and vehicle drivers that they are within the runway environment or ILS critical area.

Live from the Flight Deck

Were You Given A LAHSO Clearance?

Land and hold short lights are used to indicate the hold short point on certain runways which are approved for Land and Hold Short Operations (LAHSO). Land and hold short lights consist of a row of pulsing white lights installed across the runway at the hold short point. Where installed, the lights will be on anytime LAHSO is in effect. These lights will be off when LAHSO is not in effect.

Google Maps

What About Displaced Thresholds?

Once you're on a displaced threshold available for takeoff, you'll notice a lack of blue taxi edge lights. The green runway end bars will be ahead of you, signaling where the official runway begins. You may begin your takeoff on the displaced threshold, you just can't land there. That's why you'll see either white (or no) centerline lights in the displaced threshold area. Edge lights will be red, to signal landing aircraft that the pavement is not available for landing.

Live from the Flight Deck

Don't Confuse Runways With Taxiways

Taxiway edge lights are always blue. This is the best way to distinguish the surface from a runway. Taxiways at major airports may have centerline lights, which are always green, unlike the white centerline of a runway.

Live from the Flight Deck

Are there any runway light colors we missed? Tell us in the comments below.


Distractions, tunnel vision, and even concentration can be real problems for pilots. Learn how to avoid danger using AOPA's situational awareness, big picture thinking, and other key tools.


Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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