What is PCL in Aviation? (Pilot Controlled Lighting)

Pilot Controlled Lighting (PCL), as the name suggests, refers to lighting systems in aviation that are controlled by pilots from the cockpit. These systems allow pilots to remotely operate the lighting on an airport runway or taxiway, providing them with greater visibility during takeoffs, landings, and ground movements. PCL is an essential component of airport infrastructure, ensuring the safety and efficiency of air traffic operations.

As an air traffic management feature, PCL enables pilots to control the lighting according to their specific needs and the prevailing weather conditions. This control allows them to adjust the intensity of the lights, switch them on or off as required, and even change the patterns of the lights to indicate specific runway configurations.

How Does Pilot Controlled Lighting Work?

Pilot Controlled Lighting operates through a radio frequency (RF) communication system. When a pilot wishes to control the lighting at an airport, they transmit a specific sequence of clicks on the assigned radio frequency. These clicks are decoded by the lighting control unit, which then executes the desired lighting command.

The clicks transmitted by pilots are known as “click counts” and are used to convey the desired lighting configuration and intensity. Different click sequences correspond to different lighting commands, allowing for various options such as turning on specific runway lights, adjusting brightness, and selecting lighting patterns.

Pilot Controlled Lighting systems typically operate on very high frequency (VHF) or ultra high frequency (UHF) bands and use amplitude modulation (AM) or single sideband (SSB) modulation techniques. These frequency bands are specifically reserved for aviation purposes to ensure reliable and interference-free communication between pilots and the lighting control unit.

Benefits of Pilot Controlled Lighting

Pilot Controlled Lighting offers several advantages that contribute to the overall safety and efficiency of aviation operations. Some of these benefits include:

Enhanced Visibility: PCL allows pilots to activate the lights when needed, ensuring improved visibility during low-light conditions or at night. This increased visibility helps pilots maintain situational awareness and make accurate decisions during critical phases of flight.

Cost-Effective Operation: By allowing pilots to control the lighting system, airports can optimize their lighting usage and reduce unnecessary energy consumption. This cost-effective operation benefits both the airport authorities and the environment, promoting sustainable aviation practices.

Flexibility: PCL provides flexibility in terms of lighting configurations. Pilots can select different lighting patterns based on the prevailing weather conditions, runway conditions, and specific operational requirements. This flexibility enhances aviation safety by ensuring that lighting is tailored to the needs of each individual flight.

Improved Pilot-Controller Communication: The ability for pilots to control the lighting system via radio communication enhances communication between pilots and air traffic controllers. Pilots can quickly and effectively convey their intentions regarding lighting requirements, allowing controllers to align their instructions with the pilots’ needs.


Pilot Controlled Lighting is a vital component of aviation operations, allowing pilots to control lighting systems from the cockpit. This control enhances visibility, reduces energy consumption, and optimizes lighting configurations while maintaining communication between pilots and air traffic controllers. The use of PCL ensures the safe and efficient operation of airports, contributing to the overall success of the aviation industry.

For More: What is CL in Aviation? (Checklist)