Airport runways and taxiways are equipped with various lighting systems to help pilots navigate safely during takeoff, landing, and taxiing. One common lighting system seen is the taxiway edge lights which outline the edges of the taxiway. These lights are typically orange in color. In this article, we’ll explore what these orange taxiway lights are, their purpose, and how pilots use them.
What Are Taxiway Lights?
Taxiway lights are lighting systems installed along airport taxiways to help guide pilots during taxi operations. There are several types of taxiway lights:
- Taxiway edge lights – Outline the edges of the taxiway
- Taxiway centerline lights – Mark the centerline of the taxiway
- Runway guard lights – Warn pilots they are approaching a runway
- Clearance bar lights – Indicate the boundaries of the ILS critical area
- Stop bar lights – Signal pilots to stop before a runway
The most common taxiway lights are the blue taxiway edge lights. These lights outline the edges of the taxiway and are omni-directional to be visible from any angle. The lights allow pilots to clearly identify the taxiway boundaries at night and during low visibility conditions.
Why Are Taxiway Lights Orange?
While taxiway edge lights are typically blue, orange lights are often seen marking certain “hot spots” on taxiways. Hot spots are locations on an airport’s taxiway system that have an increased risk of runway incursions or other surface incidents. They may have complex intersections, constrained spaces, or limited visibility.
Some examples of hot spots that may be marked with orange lights include:
- Complex taxiway intersections
- Taxiways with limited sight lines
- Areas with a history of surface incidents
- Taxiways leading directly to an active runway
The orange lights help increase situational awareness and warn pilots that extra caution is needed in that area. The distinctive orange color is meant to immediately grab the pilot’s attention compared to the typical blue edge lighting.
When Are Orange Taxiway Lights Used?
Orange taxiway lights can be used in a few different ways on the airport surface:
- Temporary warnings – Orange lights may temporarily mark areas under construction or with temporary obstructions.
- Intersections – Complex, constrained or “hot spot” taxiway intersections may have orange lights.
- Runway approach – Taxiways entering near runway thresholds often have orange lights.
- Permanent markings – Specific spots with hazards may have permanent orange light installations.
So while blue lights mark the standard taxiway edges, strategic use of orange lights provides an extra visual warning to pilots for potentially dangerous areas. Airports will light these hot spots and complex locations with orange as needed based on their unique layout.
How Do Pilots Use Orange Taxiway Lights?
For pilots taxiing at night, the orange taxiway lights serve an important purpose:
- Improved situational awareness – Orange lights stand out and grab the pilot’s attention.
- Indication of a “hot spot” – Pilots know to exercise extra caution near orange lit areas.
- Increased visibility – The lights help pilots discern the taxiway’s shape and boundaries.
- Warning sign – Orange lights warn pilots of potential hazards ahead.
When pilots see the orange lights, they know to slow down, increase vigilance, and be prepared for tight turns or limited clearance. The orange color signals “caution” compared to regular blue taxiway edge lights. This allows pilots to take appropriate action and help avoid surface incidents.
Being familiar with the airport layout is key – pilots should study airport diagrams and be aware of noted hot spots. Orange taxi lights help confirm those locations on the actual taxiway. Maintaining a slow, cautious speed while taxiing in orange-lit areas is also important.
The key points to remember about orange taxiway lights:
- Orange lights mark “hot spots” requiring extra caution.
- They are used for complex intersections, tight areas, and runway approaches.
- Orange stands out over typical blue taxiway edge lights.
- Pilots should slow down and increase vigilance near orange lights.
- Being familiar with the airport layout helps identify hot spots.
So next time you are at the airport, keep an eye out for those distinctive orange lights along the taxiway. They provide a vital function in guiding pilots and enhancing safety during ground operations.
Orange Taxiway Lights vs. Blue Taxiway Lights Comparison
Here is a comparison of some key characteristics between orange and blue taxiway lights:
|Orange Taxiway Light
|Blue Taxiway Light
|Marks hot spots requiring caution
|Outlines standard taxiway edges
|Complex intersections, tight spaces, runway approaches
|Along the length of normal taxiway routes
|Message to pilots
|Exercise caution, be alert
|Identifies the taxiway edges
|Slow down, increase vigilance
|Follow lights to stay on taxiway
The orange lights provide an extra layer of visual communication compared to the standard blue edge lights. Strategic use of orange indicates caution, while ubiquitous blue lights outline the taxiway.
FAA Regulations for Taxiway Lighting
The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides standards and regulations for various airport signs and lighting systems, including taxiway lights. Some key FAA regulations include:
- Taxiway edge lights must be fixed blue lights spaced up to 200 feet apart.
- Taxiway centerline lights are fixed green lights when located on an active taxi route.
- Runway guard lights must emit a yellow light when taxiing toward a runway.
- Stop bar lights emit fixed red lights to tell pilots where to stop.
- The installation of temporary orange lights requires NOTAMs.
- Permanent area lighting requires inclusion on airport layout diagrams.
The FAA does not specifically mandate orange taxiway lights, but they do allow their use with proper notification provided. Airports have latitude to employ orange lighting as needed based on their unique layouts and locations. There are also FAA standards for light intensity, beam angles, fixture heights, and more.
Benefits of Orange Taxiway Lights
Installing orange taxiway lights for hazardous locations has several benefits for airport safety:
- Increased situational awareness – Orange grabs pilots’ attention to the hazards
- Improved caution – Pilots are prompted to slow down and be vigilant
- Enhanced visibility – Lighting makes tight spaces and intersections easier to discern
- Hazard indication – Orange lights communicate the area’s challenges
- Warnings for visitors – Helps pilots unfamiliar with the airport layout
Orange taxiway lights provide an effective way to designate problematic spots and influence pilot behavior to exercise greater caution. This improves the safety margin and reduces the risks of taxi errors and surface incidents.
History of Taxiway Lighting
Taxiway lighting technologies and standards have evolved over aviation history:
- 1920s – First electric lights installed along airport taxiways.
- 1930s – Blue lights introduced according to CAA standards.
- 1950s – Centerline lights added for navigation.
- 1960s – Underground wiring allowed moretaxiway lighting.
- 1970s – FAA specifies fixtures, spacing, light intensity.
- 1980s – Control systems allow variable lighting.
- 2000s – LED lights introduced for efficiency.
Early taxiways had no lighting or minimal illumination from airport beacons and hangars. As aircraft traffic increased, the first purpose-built electric taxi lights were installed. Adoption of blue lights happened fairly early to distinguish from white landing lights. Complex lighting systems then developed with various light colors serving different purposes.
The use of orange lights emerged decades later as airports began designating hot spots. More precise taxiway layouts required additional visual indicators beyond the ubiquitous blue lights. Orange provided that distinct highlighting of problem areas for pilots. Continued evolution will likely refine taxiway lighting further with control technologies and green initiatives.
Future of Taxiway Lighting Systems
Some possible innovations for taxiway lights in the future include:
- Improved LED fixtures for brightness, efficiency, and reliability.
- Incorporation of wireless and smart technology for adaptive lighting.
- Integration with other airport visual guidance systems.
- Expanded use of colored lights for clearer communication.
- Directional taxiway lights that actively point along the route.
- Warmer color temperatures for increased visibility.
- Solar power to reduce electrical demands.
Technology will enable taxiway lighting to become more customizable, situationally aware, and energy efficient. Airport traffic continues increasing globally so enhancements to lighting and visual aids will be important for maintaining efficient and safe ground operations in the future.
Airport taxiway lights serve the vital purpose of guiding pilots and enhancing situational awareness during ground movements. Orange lights have become an effective way to designate hot spots and hazardous areas that require extra caution from pilots. Understanding the strategic use of orange taxiway lights allows pilots to be alert and slow down when approaching tricky locations on the airport surface. Taxiway lighting systems will continue evolving with technology to further improve ground operation safety through customized and adaptive illuminated visual aids.
The orange glow along the taxiway is an important sight prompting increased vigilance from pilots. Being able to visually identify hazardous spots allows proactive action to be taken to avoid incidents. With the continued growth in air traffic, maintaining safe and efficient ground movements through modern taxiway lighting innovations will remain a key focus for airports worldwide.