Aviation light signals

In the case of a radio failure or aircraft not equipped with a radio, or in the case of a deaf pilot, air traffic control may use a signal lamp (called a "signal light gun" or "light gun" by the FAA[1][2]) to direct the aircraft. ICAO regulations require air traffic control towers to possess such signal lamps.[3][4] The signal lamp has a focused bright beam and is capable of emitting three different colours: red, white and green.[5][6] These colors may be flashed or steady, and have different meanings to aircraft in flight or on the ground.[5][2][7] Planes can acknowledge the instruction by rocking their wings, moving the ailerons if on the ground, or by flashing their landing or navigation lights during hours of darkness.[6][7] Air Traffic Control signal light guns are typically specified with a (white) center beam brightness of > 180,000 - 200,000 candela,[1][8][9] and are visible for roughly 4 miles in clear daylight conditions.[9][10][11] The table below describes the meaning of the signals.[5][2][7] The use of handheld combination red/green/white signal lamps for air traffic control dates back to at least the 1930s.[12]

An air traffic controller using a signal light gun that can be used to control aircraft with radio failure.
Air Traffic Control signal light gun in use at base flight tower
Signal Aircraft in flight Aircraft on the ground Ground vehicles or personnel
Flashing white ICAO – Land at this airport and proceed to apron (this is not a clearance to either land or taxi. Clearances to land and taxi will follow.)

FAA – Not applicable

Return to starting point on airport Return to starting point on airport
Steady green Cleared to land Cleared for takeoff Cleared to cross, proceed or go
Flashing green Return for landing Cleared to taxi Not applicable
Steady red Give way to other aircraft and continue circling STOP STOP
Flashing red Airport unsafe, do not land Taxi clear of the runway in use Clear the taxiway/runway
Alternating red and green Exercise extreme caution Exercise extreme caution Exercise extreme caution


  1. ^ a b Federal Aviation Administration (July 5, 1973). Gun, Signal Light, Portable, FAA-E-2214a Amendment-2. Department of Transportation. p. 5. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "TBL 4-3-1, Airport Traffic Control Tower Light Gun Signals". Section 3. Airport Operations. Federal Aviation Administration. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  3. ^ Aerodromes: Volume I Aerodrome Design and Operations (6th ed.). International Civil Aviation Organization. July 2013. p. 8-2.
  4. ^ Civil Aviation Regulations (CAR 001 – Aerodrome Standards & Certification Regulations) 2018 (PDF). Kingdom of Bahrain Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications. April 19, 2018. p. 68.
  5. ^ a b c Rules of the Air: Annex 2 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation (PDF) (10th ed.). International Civil Aviation Organization. July 2005. p. APP 1–3. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  6. ^ a b "4-3-13. Traffic Control Light Signals". Section 3. Airport Operations. Federal Aviation Administration. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  7. ^ a b c "3. SIGNALS FOR AERODROME TRAFFIC". EUR-Lex. European Union. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  8. ^ Light, Airport Traffic Control, SDU-4/U, MIL-DTL-25971D. Department of Defense. February 18, 2015. p. 7. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  9. ^ a b MICC Fort Rucker. "58--Tower Signal Light Guns". USAOPPS. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  10. ^ "Signal Light Gun". ATI Avionics, Inc. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  11. ^ "LED Signal Light Gun". PPS Technical. Retrieved 12 May 2019.
  12. ^ Harding, W (June 29, 1937). US Patent 2,085,020 Combination Sight and Indicator for Traffic Control Projectors. USPTO. Retrieved 13 May 2019.