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Taking Off At Night Without Runway Lights - Legal?

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 8:28 am
by PiedmontINT
So im at work relaxing after our last flight and I check flightaware out and sure enough there is a B752 coming to MHK! Its very rare that our tiny little airport sees such a large aircraft and so of course I have to wait for it to see the landing but more importantly the takeoff! It was an Omni Air International bird (didn't get the reg and damnit if i didnt bring my camera!) bringing in soldiers to the Ft. Riley army base a few miles away.

Well after it is offloaded and refueled it taxis out to the runway and sits for a few minutes getting clearance from KC Center since our tower closes at 10p and it was 2:30a when he was leaving. After getting his clearance, the 757 then turned onto the active and rocketed down the runway, without turning the field lights on by keying the mic on tower's frequency!!!

So that begs the question, is it legal for an aircraft depart from an uncontrolled airfield at night without the field and runway lights on? And if it is, why would you? It puzzles me why you wouldnt want to have the lights on in this situation.

RE: Taking Off At Night Without Runway Lights - Legal?

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 8:44 am
by pblaketas
This is a big issue in Australia at the moment - see PPRUNE about a Jetstar A320 taking off at Launceston without the lights on, even though a Qantas flight had done something similar a few years earlier and the pilots are involved in legal action.

http://www.pprune.org/forums/showthread.php?t=318491

RE: Taking Off At Night Without Runway Lights - Legal?

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 8:45 am
by nema
Well on a slightly different matter but similar topic, i recall a TV documentary in the 80's where a pilot said he was flying into the old Athens airport (Now Defunct), requested that the runway lights were turned on and he got the reply that they couldn't because they might fuse the system.

A genuine situation that actually happened but i think it would be more unlikely these days.

RE: Taking Off At Night Without Runway Lights - Legal?

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 8:53 am
by Ryanair!!!
Well... from an air traffic controller's point of view (well, ex- anyway), anything flight movements after 1900H would have been classified "night ops" and yes, turning on the airfield lights was mandatory. In the northern and southern hemispheres where the sunset vary widely according to season, the timing might differ. However, if the airfield was unmanned and the activation of these lights were via radio frequency, who was there to say no-go to the aircraft should he thunder down the runway without any airfield lightings? No one.

By right, it wasn't supposed to happen. By left, the airfield was unmanned and it was up to the onus of the pilot to ensure his own safety.

RE: Taking Off At Night Without Runway Lights - Legal?

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 9:11 am
by PiedmontINT


Quoting Ryanair!!! (Reply 3):
However, if the airfield was unmanned and the activation of these lights were via radio frequency, who was there to say no-go to the aircraft should he thunder down the runway without any airfield lightings? No one.

We have a transceiver and I thought about saying something to him, sort of in a joking manner like "hey, is it a little dark out there?" or something, but I was a little too much in shock to see not only a 757 at our podunk airport, but a 757 haul down the runway in pitch black.. Big grin

RE: Taking Off At Night Without Runway Lights - Legal?

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 11:09 am
by 797
Legal? I don't know but I have seen it several times.

I recall the moment in which Venezuela was going through one of its latest crisis and the government started using the airport located in the heart of Caracas to take out the government members that were involved with all the issues that were going on by then. This escape was so evident that the aircraft turned on and off its taxi light on a constant basis to avoid to be seen, until it was airborne, it was pretty impressive...

RE: Taking Off At Night Without Runway Lights - Legal?

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 12:45 pm
by tjwgrr
Maybe the pilot controlled lighting was inop?

I'm sure the crew had no problem seeing the runway markings with the a/c's lights on.


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Photo © Nathan Zalcman - AirTeamImages


[Edited 2008-03-27 05:47:11]

RE: Taking Off At Night Without Runway Lights - Legal?

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 12:49 pm
by rfields5421
What was the visibility? Moon up or down, cloudy or clear?

A rough guess was the pilot felt he had enough visibility - and was cursing the airport lights for not working properly.

May have had the wrong frequency on an old chart, may have thought he properly keyed the lights and they were not working.

I've never seen anything which requires there be lights to operate an aircraft at night. One that large, yes very unusual.

Would probably be against the operating procedure of a larger airline.

But the US military does some large flights without lights. A friend who recently completed C-17 training mentions the weirdness of doing night landings and takeoffs in the C-17 on dirt assault strips with no lights - using night vision gear.

That's another possibility, they may have had that equipment onboard.

RE: Taking Off At Night Without Runway Lights - Legal?

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 12:56 pm
by tjwgrr


Quoting RFields5421 (Reply 7):
That's another possibility, they may have had that equipment onboard.

Interesting point. Do CRAF crews operate with night vision equipment and avoid using a/c lighting since they fly into and out of potentially hostile areas?

RE: Taking Off At Night Without Runway Lights - Legal?

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 1:04 pm
by PVD757
At a controlled airfield (has an open ATCT), the runway lights are required during night and IFR conditions.

At uncontrolled airfields, it is the pilot's resposibility to use them, so it's "legal," but arguably unsafe.

Funny thing is, if a runway's lights are OTS, most airports NOTAM the runway closed, yet if the lights are working, but optionally not turned on by the PCL feature by the pilot, it is "OK" to use the runway - sort of contradictory if you ask me.

RE: Taking Off At Night Without Runway Lights - Legal?

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 2:59 pm
by Slovacek747
I recently few from AUS-IAH on an early morning departure. It was around 6am and it was still dark outside.. as we turned onto the runway, the runway lights were clearly not on. The only lights I could see were those of the plane (which were very bright). I thought this was kind of odd at the time, but in no way thought it was unsafe. Though I couldn't see much of the runway, I did feel very comfortable when seeing how bright the plane's lights were near the front landing gear.

Anway, just thought I would chime in with my experience.

Slovacek747

RE: Taking Off At Night Without Runway Lights - Legal?

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:35 pm
by PiedmontINT


Quoting RFields5421 (Reply 7):
What was the visibility? Moon up or down, cloudy or clear?

A rough guess was the pilot felt he had enough visibility - and was cursing the airport lights for not working properly.

May have had the wrong frequency on an old chart, may have thought he properly keyed the lights and they were not working.

Moon down, and low clouds, I would say below 700 feet. Really humid and almost foggy, the thick air that makes everything wet.

He keyed the lights on for landing, so they were in working order and I keyed them on for fun after he left. I should have done it as he was hauling ass down the runway :P

Quoting RFields5421 (Reply 7):
But the US military does some large flights without lights. A friend who recently completed C-17 training mentions the weirdness of doing night landings and takeoffs in the C-17 on dirt assault strips with no lights - using night vision gear.

That's another possibility, they may have had that equipment onboard.

It was an Omni Air charter 757 from BGR and MHK isn't in a combat zone. Why would he have night vision gear?

I know the 757's landing lights are more than bright enough to illuminate the runway, but for safety at a small uncontrolled airport you would think you would want to at least see where the narrow taxiways are and where they drop off into a ditch wouldnt you?

RE: Taking Off At Night Without Runway Lights - Legal?

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 3:49 pm
by rfields5421


Quoting PiedmontINT (Reply 11):
I should have done it as he was hauling ass down the runway

NO !!!!

Possibly before he started the takeoff - but you really don't want to suddenly change a pilot's field of view during a critical phase of flight without any notification it's going to happen.

RE: Taking Off At Night Without Runway Lights - Legal?

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:10 pm
by Coronado990
I would think the most dangerous part of this maneuver is not having any runway end lights. Following the centerline strip without side runway lights during take-off shouldn't be much of a problem. But not having runway end lights for a possible abort makes this slightly dangerous in my mind.

My two cents.

RE: Taking Off At Night Without Runway Lights - Legal?

Posted: Thu Mar 27, 2008 4:28 pm
by ChiGB1973


Quoting Tjwgrr (Reply 8):
Interesting point. Do CRAF crews operate with night vision equipment and avoid using a/c lighting since they fly into and out of potentially hostile areas?

We never did at TZ.

M