It's Not A UFO - Get Ready
For New Pulsating Airline
Landing Lights
By J. Lynn Lunsford
The Dallas Morning News
From Stig Agermose <>
No, it's not a UFO. Or a loose bulb.
Those pulsating lights in the sky are just jetliners with attitude.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is leading what is expected to be a national trend in airline safety: flashing landing lights on jets.
It's a matter of being seen, airline officials say.
"If you look at a steady light when you are searching the sky, it won't get your attention as quickly as a pulsating light," said Greg Crum, Southwest's chief pilot.
The lights - two on each wing - alternate from bright to dim every three seconds while a jet is maneuvering in busy traffic areas. They can be set to burn constantly just before landing.
Southwest officials think the illusion of movement created by the new lights will make their jets stand out in the constellation of flying machines that fill the skies around busy cities.
"We think it will be a safety benefit," Mr. Crum said.
It costs about $1,000 to modify each airplane. So far, Southwest has completed the installation on three of its Boeing 737s. The airline expects to have the system on its entire fleet of 285 jets by mid-1999, Mr. Crum said.
Chicago-based United Airlines has put the system on three of its 737s but wants to evaluate it before outfitting all of its 577 jets.
For now, other carriers, including Fort Worth-based American Airlines, say they will watch Southwest.
"You remember the cereal advertisement where they say, 'Let Mikey try it?' " Mr. Crum said. "Well, we're Mikey."
The attention-getting power of flashing lights has been known for decades. That's why they are atop police cars and tall structures.
Airplanes already twinkle with strobe lights on their fuselages and wingtips, but none are as powerful as the blindingly bright headlights used for landing.
For added safety - even during the day - pilots of jetliners and smaller private airplanes regularly turn on their landing lights while flying near busy traffic areas.
"It's a big sky, and the other aircraft takes up only a minuscule part of it," said Warren Morningstar, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which represents private aircraft owners.
Mr. Morningstar said that "it doesn't matter what size of airplane it is - if it has pulsating landing lights, it's easier to see. That's why they have been on smaller planes for years."
Federal air traffic officials say the pulsating lights probably will be of more benefit to other pilots than to air traffic controllers, who typically rely on radar to monitor flights.
"For those airports where there is a mix of smaller airplanes and large airplanes, it would enhance the ability to point out other aircraft," said Larry Viselli, air traffic operations manager for the Federal Aviation Administration's southwest region.
From a pilot's perspective, the new pulsating lights are a simple safety benefit.
"You just flip on a switch, and they are on," said Southwest Capt. Tom Moudy, who recently flew one of the newly equipped planes from Dallas Love Field to Houston.
"From a safety standpoint, anything we can do to enhance the ability to be seen, it gives us an easier feeling, especially at low altitudes," he said.