A lit-up airport in the middle of the night is a sight to see, whether it brings a feeling of wanderlust or the dread of a red-eye flight.

In technical terms, this lighting is referred to as airport beaconing (even though you can usually get away with saying airport lighting).

Flying always poses some risk, and although you’re more likely to suffer a car accident than a flying one, people are wary of safety precautions when flying.

Nighttime flying, although necessary, poses obvious visibility issues. This is also true during dusk and dawn, and adverse weather conditions like fog, snow, or dust.

Many factors like these can make it difficult for pilots at every stage of the process, including taxiing around a busy runway.

In the past, especially during the years of World War I, airport staff burned oil barrels to be able to take off and land planes during the night.

Thankfully, industry standards for airport lighting have improved so much that it is hardly risky to operate at night.

Modern airports have complex lighting systems, and many of these use LED technology for cost-effective and long-lasting lighting.

Pexels Matthew Turner 2601275

Creating Space and Order Inside with LED Lights

Whether travelers are departing or arriving, they need to feel welcome and comfortable. An easy way to ensure that passengers have a pleasant airport experience is to use LED lighting systems.

LED lights help create a safe and secure feeling in all areas of the airport. They make important signage easy to identify and read, which helps improve traffic flow, and give the space a polished appearance.

It’s essential to design a space that’s easy to navigate and provides passengers with a welcoming ambiance.

Entrances and exits that feature brightly lit signs and highlight architecture points do this exact thing.

Check-in and Information Desks

The better the light quality, the easier it is for airport staff members to serve passengers.

With bright, adequate lighting, checking passports and other documentation is an easy process that helps maximize efficiency and keeps lines to a minimum.

Having the correct signage and lighting for these places ensures that check-ins go smoothly.

Connection Areas and Travelators

For an airport which serves travelers 24 hours a day, it is essential that the connection areas are easy to navigate. They are essential for traveling to terminals and having easy to read signs helps passengers get where they are going on time.

Lower light levels give these high-traffic areas a calming ambiance, while brightly lit signs tell everyone exactly where to go.

Customs and Passport Control

It comes as no surprise that security is of the utmost importance at an airport.

And although checking passports and boarding documents thoroughly is essential, travelers expect this to be done in a timely manner.

Long lines in security results in angry passengers and frustrated airport staff. The right lighting speeds up the custom lines by improving facial recognition and helping the workers quickly scan all important documents.

Arrival and Departure Halls

Arrival and departure halls are one of the busiest parts of airports, and, as such, are often chaotic.

Travelers need to be able to quickly acclimate to their surroundings and obtain essential travel information in the middle of crowds.

Well-lit signs and properly lit walkways will help guide passengers to the correct terminal, helping ensure that everyone remains on time, happy, and calm.

Baggage Claim Area

Anyone who has flown can relate to the hectic baggage claim rush. People are tired and dazed after long flights, and waiting to get your luggage is just one more step before they can relax.

Using a lighting temperature that mimics daylight can help customers reacclimate and find the correct luggage claim quickly and easily.

And, providing bright, information LED signage above baggage claims ensures that everything stays organized. Although this aspect of flying doesn’t have anything to do with the passengers themselves, it has a significant effect on them.

Luggage handling happens day or night, rain or shine, and oftentimes in dark, poorly lit areas. Adding bright lighting improves communication between luggage handlers, lessens the chances of lost bags, and makes workers feel more at ease.

Airport Retrofit

Air Traffic Control

Air traffic controllers are essential for the safe and efficient operation of any airport.  They guide pilots and maintain control with airplanes all day, every day.

This job is especially important at night when it’s hard for pilots and airport workers on the ground to see. Providing the perfect light to help keep air traffic controllers alert is an easy way to maintain airport safety.

Retail and Areas

Many airports feature bustling retail areas between terminals. They have shops and restaurants to keep passengers happy during long waits and layovers.

Using bright lights and engaging displays draws travelers in and highlights key locations throughout the airport.

Facades and Architecture

One of the many, many benefits of LED lighting is that it gives you complete control over the color, dynamics, miniaturization, and energy efficiency of the lighting.

This makes it perfect for highlighting specific features and creating a welcoming ambiance. Using lighting to transform your airport into a landmark makes it a standout symbol of welcome and comfort.

Airport Lighting

Runway Lights for Flight Safety

Runway lighting systems are mostly consistent around the world, but they can vary depending on local weather patterns. When a plane leaves the gate for takeoff, it travels past blue and green taxi lights, runway guard lights (which warn the pilots that they are about to enter a runway), before reaching the heavily lit runway.

Runway lighting systems mark the centerline and and edges of the runway, which allow pilots to take off with confidence.

Landing a plane is made much easier thanks to approach lights, which extend past the end of the runway and help pilots align the plane properly.

These point the pilots towards a set of touchdown lights, which cover the first 3,000 feet of runway and pave the way for an easy landing.

In all, over 1,100 lights are used in a typical airport runway. These keep pilots, workers, and passengers safe, and are meant to aid precise technology that keeps a plane on the right track – even when pilots can’t see the runway until they are right on top of it.

Coloring & Spacing of LED Airport Lights

Runway lights aren’t just for vision, their color and spacing also provide pilots and other airport workers with information. Just like runway markings, runway lighting is spaced at defined intervals.

Colors Found in Runway Edge Lighting

The Federal Aviation Administration maintains an official Airfield Standards publication, which states that there are nine different color combinations of lighting you’ll find around the edges of runways, each with its own meaning (as seen above).

And aside from differences in color, there are notable distinctions in the power and spacing distance of runway lights as well.

LED lights are a popular choice for airport runway lighting for a myriad of different reasons.

The primary reason being that they have a long lifespan and can be engineered to provide an extremely bright and powerful beam. But there’s another reason that LEDs are often used for runway lighting.

LEDs offer color customization in a way that no other bulb type does. In fact, LEDs can change color on command. This ability makes them perfect for runway lighting where different colors and color combinations are used to designate essential information.

what airport lights mean

Neil Headshot


Linkedin Facebook Twitter Youtube Instagram

About the Author

Neil Peterson is Chief Operating Officer at LED Lighting Supply. He has been active in the LED industry for over 10 years and is responsible for product planning and management as well as revenue and operations at LED Lighting Supply. Much of Neil’s time is focused on customer engagement for large commercial and industrial lighting requirements. When not working, he enjoys family time, camping, fishing, and sports..

See more posts by Neil Peterson