Ten airport signs, markings, and lights all pilots should know

Taxiing at larger airports can add new complexities to your flight, especially when visiting an unfamiliar airport for the first time. Here’s a review of ten airport signs and pavement markings you might encounter during ground operations at a busy airport.


Name
Runway Safety Area with Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS)

Purpose

The Runway Safety Area is typically 500 feet wide and extends to a maximum of 1,000 feet beyond each end of the runway. It provides a graded area in the event that an aircraft overruns, undershoots, or veers off the side of the runway. EMAS uses crushable material placed at the end of a runway to stop an aircraft that overruns the runway. The tires of the aircraft sink into the lightweight material and the aircraft is decelerated as it rolls through the material. This is currently installed for 117 runway ends at 69 airports in the United States.

What do these markings indicate?

The yellow chevrons indicate the area is to be used for emergencies only, and not for taxi, takeoff or landing.

 


Name
Runway Distance Remaining

Purpose

Distance remaining signs are located along the sides of runways at 1,000 feet increments. These signs can give a pilot indications that the landing or takeoff is performing as expected or if an abort might be appropriate.

What does this sign indicate?

There are 4,000 feet of remaining runway left from the current position.

 


Name
Runway Status Lights (RWSL)

Purpose

This fully automated advanced alerting system uses embedded lights in the runway to alert pilots when it is unsafe to enter, cross or takeoff from a runway.

What do these lights indicate?

This is an example of Takeoff Hold Lights, which are red due to an aircraft currently clearing the runway up ahead.

 


Name
Runway/Taxiway Location Signs

Purpose

Taxiway location signs are black with a yellow border and numerals. They are used to identify taxiways or runways on which the aircraft is located. A yellow sign with a black arrow defines the direction and designation of intersecting taxiways. A red sign with white lettering defines the entrance to a runway or where an aircraft should hold short until receiving an ATC clearance to enter. A red sign with the runway number and APCH indicates an area where ATC may request you to hold short during certain situations.

What do these signs indicate?

You are currently located on Taxiway Juliet. Taxiway Sierra crosses perpendicular in front of you from left to right, and you are nearing the Runway 27 Approach Area holding position (you are only required to hold short of the Approach area if instructed by ATC, even though it uses the same pavement hold short markings that you’d find leading up to an active runway).

 


Name
ILS Critical Area

Purpose

This sign identifies the ILS critical area boundary. At towered fields, you must hold short of the ILS critical area only when instructed by ATC. At non-towered fields during instrument conditions, remain clear of the critical area until released by ATC.

What does this sign indicate?

You are approaching the ILS critical area.

 


Name
No Entry Sign

Purpose

The no entry sign identifies paved areas where aircraft entry is prohibited.

What does this sign indicate?

Do not enter – the paved surface is the entrance to the airport fire department.

 


Name
Ground vehicle surface marking

Purpose

White markings are for ground vehicles and are used to define a pathway for operations on or crossing areas that are also intended for aircraft.

What does this sign indicate?

The red “stop” letters on the white painted background instruct ground vehicles to stop at this location.

 
Name
Non-movement area marking

Purpose

A single sold line next to a single dashed line delineates movement from non-movement areas. The non-movement area begins on the side with the solid line and typically separates areas like FBO ramps and aprons from active taxiways and runways. You can taxi freely in the non-movement area without an ATC clearance. When ready to taxi out of a non-movement area, pull up to the solid line side of the marking and call ATC for a taxi clearance.

What does this marking indicate?

You are taxiing in from the movement area (an active taxiway) to the non-movement area (the FBO ramp)

 


Name
Runway Holding Position Sign and Marking

Purpose

These markings identify the locations on a taxiway where aircraft MUST STOP when a clearance has not been issued to proceed onto the runway. Generally, runway holding position markings also identify the boundary of the runway safety area (RSA) for aircraft exiting the runway. An aircraft exiting a runway is not clear of the runway until all parts of the aircraft have crossed the applicable holding position marking.

What does this sign and marking indicate?

You are currently on taxiway Alpha, holding short of the departure end of Runway 27.

 

Name

Runway Blue Dot

Purpose

There are several uniquely colored, round markers painted on the runways at Oshkosh (KOSH) during EAA’s Airventure week, which ATC uses to instruct inbound airplanes on which part of the runway to aim for during land.

What does this marking indicate?

You just landed on runway 36L at Oshkosh!

Now is a great time to take our quiz on airport signs and markings.

 

3 replies
  1. Scott says:

    “ What does this sign and marking indicate?

    You are currently on taxiway Alpha, holding short of the departure end of Runway 27.”

    Why isn’t this the “arrival end” or “approach end” of Runway 27? It seems like the departure end should be connected to the departure leg.

    If not, where is the approach end of Runway 27? What about airports that have signage that says “27 – APCH” like the example listed above? Isn’t that saying the approach end is the end you approach from when landing and where you take off from?

    Reply
  2. A. Campbell says:

    Some of the information you provide is not entirely correct. For instance the runway safety area dimensions you cite are only applicable to certain categories of aircraft. For runways that serve smaller aircraft these dimensional standards are smaller. The authors need to be careful to caveat information and the groups of aircraft it applies to.

    Reply
  3. christopher graul says:

    This is an obvious error in ILS section:

    “At non-towered fields during instrument conditions, remain clear of the critical area until released by ATC.”
    If it is a “non-towered” field, you will have a LONG wait to be released by ATC!

    Reply

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