Operating in and out of towered airports requires a landing clearance prior to touchdown. Pilots do occasionally land without a clearance. Depending on the circumstances, this could become an FAA violation: something every pilot should want to avoid. The solution? Almost every airplane has a built in advisory system to alert the pilot as to the status of his/her landing or takeoff clearance. You just have to know how to use it.
I’m talking about the landing light. So how does it work? It’s quite simple:
Always taxi with the landing light off, using only your taxi light as needed. Once you hear the magic words “cleared for takeoff,” you should instinctively switch on the landing light. It doesn’t matter if it’s day or night, just turn the light on. Your climb checklist should have you turn the light back off once on your way.
Follow the same discipline with your landing clearance. The landing light should not come on until you have been cleared to land. On short final, take a quick glance at the landing light and verify that it is on — that’s your reminder that you have in fact been cleared to land. This is also a good time to double check “three in the green” for retractable landing gear pilots.
It may sound crazy, but airplanes land without clearances more often than you might expect. Sometimes controllers get busy and forget to issue the landing clearance. This happened to me the other day, but because the landing lights were still off on short final, I caught it and asked the controller for the clearance myself.
At other times it is the pilots fault: we forget to contact the tower in the first place. Before you laugh and say “I’ll never do that,” what if approach issued the following?
“Cessna 12345, cleared for the ILS 36R approach, contact tower 119.7 crossing MGHEE.”
It’s almost a set up, isn’t it? Now you’re cleared to shoot the approach, but not to land. Worse, you have to stay on the approach frequency for a few minutes: just enough time for you to forget to call the tower. If you operate in and out of controlled airports enough, you will mess this one up sooner or later. And if you use the landing light trick, you just might save yourself a world of trouble.