- 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
- "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
- 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
- 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.