AOPA will be closing at 2:30pm on Friday, May 24th and will also be closed on Monday, May 27th. We will reopen Tuesday morning, May 28th th at 8:30am ET.
Get extra lift from AOPA. Start your free membership trial today! Click here
Aircraft Spruce logo
Sponsored by Aircraft Spruce

Training and Safety Tip: Guidance on the ground

Know the signs, for safety’s sake

Although some student pilots start learning to fly before they drive, many have been driving for years and find that when it comes to flying, they have to overcome habits that don’t transfer.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

This includes “steering” with hand controls on the ground and taxiing to the side of the centerline rather than on it. But after teaching my son to drive recently, I realized there are many aspects of driving that do transfer to flying, including the need to learn and identify markings, signage, and lighting, which are consistent throughout the country, whether you are driving or flying.

The FAA’s Aeronautical Information Manual contains descriptions and images of the FAA standards for runway and taxiway markings, signage in the airport environment, and runway and taxiway lighting. These are essential items for pilots to understand as they help improve runway safety and reduce runway incursions.

The different types of runway markings depend on whether the runway is used for visual approaches, nonprecision-instrument approaches, or precision instrument approaches. But what they all have in common is that the runway markings are white. In the same way, regardless of the size of the airport or the number of runways and taxiways, the taxiway markings are consistently yellow. Of course, there are often exceptions to rules and one exception is that hold short lines are always yellow, even when they are located on a runway.

In general, signs depicting runway locations and directions are red and white, while signs depicting taxiway locations and direction are yellow and black. Black-and-white signs along the edge of some runways show the amount of runway length remaining.

Lights along the edges of runways are white. For instrument runways, yellow lights along the edges indicate the last 2,000 feet of the runway (or half the length if that is less). There are also lights depicting the end of the runway; these are red from the viewpoint of a departing aircraft but show as green in the other direction for arriving aircraft. Taxiways have edge lights that are blue and centerline lights that are green.

For both drivers and pilots, a red stop sign is universal, as is a red sign with a circle and line through it and/or the words “Do not enter”!

This article is meant as a general overview. As mentioned, there are exceptions, so ask your flight instructor about any nonstandard markings, lights, or signage you encounter at your airport or when visiting other airports.

ASI Staff
Kathleen Vasconcelos
Kathleen Vasconcelos is an instrument-rated flight instructor and a commercial pilot with multiengine and instrument ratings. She lives in New Hampshire.
Topics: Training and Safety, Student, Flight School
aircraft spruce logo

Aircraft Spruce

Sponsor of the AOPA Air Safety Institute's Training and Safety Tips
Aircraft Spruce provides virtually everything a pilot or aircraft owner might need. As a Strategic Partner since 2012, the company sponsors programs that bring hands-on knowledge and DIY spirit to AOPA members.