Obstruction lighting is an important aid in ensuring the safe flight of aviators around the world. You’ve almost certainly noticed it before, but you may not have given it a second thought. Obstruction lighting refers to the lighting atop tall buildings and structures that allows operators to see them from a distance. They are used at night and serve as an important collision avoidance measure. Towers, skyscrapers, bridges, hills, and even chimneys or antennas are all objects that could be considered aviation obstruction. Obstruction lighting is critical in illuminating these objects and creating a safe environment for flight.
Because obstruction needs to be visible from a radius of miles away, there are varying types and intensities of obstruction lighting. The three levels of intensity are low, medium, and high. Low-intensity lights are applied to objects no higher than 45-meters. Medium lights appear on taller buildings, structures, or natural objects like a hill. Lastly, skyscrapers, highrises, and other extremely tall constructions are equipped with high-intensity lights. In addition to the varying intensities, obstruction lights also have 4 types - A, B, C, and D. Type A lighting is a steady, read light with an output of up to ten candelas (units of measurement to describe a light’s power). Type B lights are also a steady, red light, but their power output is no less than 32 candelas. Type C lights are flashing, yellow or blue, and have at least 40 candelas. Type D, by far the most powerful, is a flashing yellow light with a candela output of 200 or greater.
Obstruction lights of both Type A and B are used with low-intensity lighting. As Type B is more powerful, it is preferential, but Type A is used in cases where Type B lighting could compromise a pilot’s visibility or blind them altogether. For medium intensity lights, types A, B, and C are all used. Objects taller than 150 meters require high-intensity lighting during both day and night. At night, a power output of approximately 2000 candelas is used. At dusk, that number increases tenfold to 20,000 candelas and in broad daylight, 27,000 candelas is required to properly light a structure.
Historically, beacons or aircraft warning lights have been made with incandescent filament bulbs. To improve the otherwise unimpressive lifespan, obstruction lights are made with a rugged design and run below their maximum operating power. Developments such as the use of high-power LED lights have solved both of the problems experienced by incandescent filament bulbs. LEDs are not only more energy efficient but also have longer lifespans, both reducing maintenance costs and supplementing reliability.
Lighting is also an important factor in safe airport runway management. Airport beacons are large, rotating lights that are highly visible from miles away. Pilots can easily find an airport at night thanks to these beacons, making it one of the easiest checkpoints for pilots navigating a nighttime flight. In addition to obstruction lights and airport beacons, taxiway lights and runway lights are also very important in creating a safe and efficient flight environment.
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