Heads Up: Warning Signals and Lights on Buildings for Aircraft

Aircraft flying at lower altitudes need to be aware of nearby obstructions and buildings, for the obvious reason of ensuring that they don’t accidentally collide with them. During the night, warning lights and signals are used on both temporary and permanent structures that could be a hazard for aircraft passing nearby. Also called obstruction lights, these systems come in several different colors, shapes, and intensities to prevent a collision from happening.


The recommendations on the design of the lighting systems, its features, and standards can vary based on elements like topographical features, geographic locations, overall layout, and the weather patterns of the structures that need to be lit. A building in an area with high amounts of fog, for instance, will need stronger lights than one that is not. Generally, there is no single standard that defines the design and installation of obstruction lighting, as there are so many variables from one place to another, but there are governing agencies that regulate their installation and usage.

The International Civil Aviation Organization issued a regulation regarding the use of aircraft warning signals. The standard light signals can be distinguished by a set of parameters: flash rates, light color, beam pattern, and light intensity. ICAO divides warning signals into three main groups:

  • High intensity warning signals or lights: these warning lights must be used if there is a presence of an object that is taller than the surrounding ground level by 150 meters or more.
  • Medium intensity warning lights: These must be used if the height of the object is greater than 45 meters than the surrounding ground level.
  • Low intensity lights: these are used if an object is less than 45 meters taller than the surrounding ground level.

Lights should be installed such that the object is indicated from every possible angle, meaning that the total number of lights used is ultimately dependent on the structure’s diameter and size. Lights should be first placed at the top of the object, and arranged such that they can indicate the edges of the structure. 

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May 8, 2019

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