Date of Award

Fall 2010

Access Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Human Factors & Systems


Human Factors and Systems

Committee Chair

Jonathan French, Ph.D.

First Committee Member

Amy Bradshaw, Ph.D.

Second Committee Member

Michael Wiggins, Ed.D.


Pilots must understand and be aware of the purpose of each airport sign, light and marking, for there are numerous. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is planning on replacing the current incandescent lighting with far more economical LED airport lighting. In preparation for this change, two experiments were conducted for this thesis. Experiment 1 attempted to determine what pilots know about the meaning of the signs, markings and lights on the taxiways and runways through a questionnaire that was developed with the FAA. Experiment 2 evaluated pilot perception of LED lighting compared to current incandescent elevated runway guard lights.

The meaning of airfield lights is not often stressed in pilot training and many pilots are unsure as to the intended purpose of specific lighting. Experiment 1 attempted to evaluate the uncertainty of these caution lights. In experiment 1, a knowledge survey about runway lighting and markings was created. The survey was developed by a flight instructor and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. The surveys were given to about 150 pilots with varying flight ratings and experience levels. Experiment 1 results determined that there is a need for more intensive or remedial training on some airport signals. Results also showed that some runway signals need to have greater cue salience. Experiment 2 was designed to replace the existing elevated runway guard lights at a local airport from incandescent lights to light emitting diodes.

Permission to cross onto the runways from a taxiway at airports must be given by the air traffic (ground) controller. The demarcation between taxiway and runway is indicated by the elevated runway guard light (ERGL), which signals to the taxiing pilot to hold short at the border of the runway until permission to cross the intersection is obtained. Incandescent lights are currently installed in the ERGLs. Experiment 2 of this thesis was designed to evaluate pilot's perceptions of the elevated runway guard lights if they were to be changed to light emitting diodes (LED). Experiment 2 was conducted to determine if pilots distinguish a difference in brightness, and noticeability as well as the level of distraction of both the incandescent and LED ERGLs.

Results of the ERGL survey indicated that the ERGL which, was LED, was perceived to be brighter, less distracting and more noticeable than the current incandescent lights. Additionally, pilots preferred the LED ERGL over the incandescent. These results argue that LED bulbs will certainly be as good as current incandescent bulbs in alerting pilots and in many cases may be better than current bulbs. Besides the potential to increase the salience of the taxiway lighting, LEDs are dramatically less expensive to use and maintain. For example, their lifespan is ten times the life of an incandescent light. Replacing the considerable number of lights on an airport with LED fixtures will bring a significant savings to operations.

These studies were part of a sponsored project by the FAA (Airport Safety Technology Research and Development Sub-Team, AJP-6311) in preparation for introducing LED technology to airport lighting.