While the exact number varies, there are typically around 8,000 to 20,000 airplanes in the air at any given time. Some of these flights occur during the daytime, whereas others occur at night. For nighttime flights, airplanes use headlights — similar to those found on automobiles. But airplane headlights aren’t used for the same reason.
Airplane Headlights Are Actually Landing Lights
The lights you see on the front of airplanes, as well as other areas, aren’t actually headlights. They are known as landing lights, and as their name suggests, they are designed primarily for landing purposes.
During the nighttime hours, it’s difficult for pilots to see people, vehicles or small objects on a runway. Airports typically illuminate their runways with lights. Nonetheless, these lights generally outline the perimeter of the runway and not the runway itself. If a person or vehicle is on the runway, the airplane could inadvertently strike them or it when landing. Landing lights, however, allow pilots to better see the runway when landing. When turned on, the airplane’s landing lights will illuminate the runway below, allowing the pilot to take evasive maneuver if there’s a person, vehicle or object still on the runway.
In addition to illuminating the runway, landing lights also reduce the risk of collision between two or more airplanes. Air traffic controllers are responsible for guiding airplanes to the runway so that they can land. But there are instances in which two or more airplanes may head for the same section of runway at the same time. If it’s nighttime, the airplanes may not see each other, thereby increasing the risk of collision. Landing lights illuminate airplanes during the nighttime hours to prevent collisions such as this. To put the power of landing lights into perspective, large commercial airplanes can typically be seen from up to 100 miles when flying tat nighttime with their landing lights turned on.
Not All Airplanes Use Landing Lights
It’s important to note that not all airplanes have landing lights. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) only requires the use of landing lights for certain types of airplanes. With that said, the FAA encourages the use of landing lights for both takeoffs and landings — as well as flights below 10,000 feet — but it doesn’t necessarily require them. Only commercial airplanes that fly at night are required by federal law to use landing lights. Private airplanes and military airplanes, on the other hand, are not required to use landing lights.