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Aviation Glossary :: PCL  Aviation Glossary :: PCL FAA Written Test Preparation
Aviation Glossary Welcome to the Dauntless Aviation Glossary!

At Dauntless, our editorial staff maintains the web's largest unified glossary of aviation terms. This glossary is built from a combination of official, quasi-official, and proprietary sources (including original material that we develop oursselves). Uniquely, we often provide multiple definitions of a given term so that you can find that which best applies to you. In order to maximize your learning efficiency, this glossary (and similar ones for our international users) is incresingly fully integrated into our aviation learning apps, including our FAA written test prep and FAA practical test prep software and apps. If you like this glossary, you'll love them with their polished learning environments and world's best and clearest content (please do give them a try.).

PILOT CONTROLLED LIGHTING (PCL) (USA): Radio control of lighting is available at selected airports to provide airborne control of lights by keying the aircraft’s microphone. The control system consists of a 3-step control responsive to 7, 5, and/or 3 microphone clicks. The 3-step and 2-step lighting facilities can be altered in intensity. All lighting is illuminated for a period of 15 minutes (except for 1-step and 2-step REILs which may be turned off by keying the mike 5 or 3 times, respectively).

Suggested use is to always initially key the mike 7 times; this assures that all controlled lights are turned on to the maximum available intensity. If desired, adjustment can then be made, where the capability is provided, to a lower intensity (or the REIL turned off) by keying the mike 5 and/or three times. Approved lighting systems may be activated by keying the mike as indicated below:


  • 7 times within 5 seconds - Highest intensity available
  • 5 times within 5 seconds - Medium or lower intensity (Lower REIL or REIL Off)
  • 3 times within 5 seconds - Lowest intensity available (Lower REIL or REIL Off)
Due to the close proximity of airports using the same frequency, radio controlled lighting receivers may be set at a low sensitivity requiring the aircraft to be relatively close to activate the system. Consequently, even when lights are on, always key mike as directed when overflying an airport of intended landing or just prior to entering the final segment of an approach. This will assure the aircraft is close enough to activate the system and a full 15 minutes lighting duration is available.
source: ICAO Aviation Chart Glossary
Pilot-controlled lighting (PCL), also known as aircraft radio control of aerodrome lighting (ARCAL) or pilot-activated lighting (PAL), is a system which allows aircraft pilots to control the lighting of an airport or airfield's approach lights, edge lights, and taxiways via radio. At some airfields, the aerodrome beacon may also be ARCAL controlled. ARCAL is most common at non-towered or little-used airfields where it is neither economical to light the runways all night, nor to provide staff to turn the runway lighting on and off. It enables pilots to control the lighting only when required, saving electricity and reducing light pollution.

The ARCAL frequency for most aerodromes is usually the same as the UNICOM/CTAF frequency, although in some rare cases, a second ARCAL frequency may be designated to control the lighting for a second runway separately (an example of this is runway 01/19 at the airport in Sydney, Nova Scotia). To activate the lights, the pilot clicks the radio transmit switch on the ARCAL frequency a certain number of times within a specified number of seconds. There are two type of ARCAL systems, type J and type K.

Type J systems are activated by keying the microphone five times within 5 seconds, while type K is initially activated by clicking seven times within 5 seconds. Once activated, the intensity of type K systems may then be turned to low, medium, or high intensity settings by keying the microphone three, five, or seven times within 5 seconds, respectively. If runway identification lights are also controlled by type K ARCAL, they may be turned off by keying the microphone three times.

When either type of system is activated, a 15-minute countdown starts, after which the lights turn off. While the lights are on, whenever a lighting command is issued, whether it changes the lighting intensity or not, the fifteen-minute countdown is reset. At some airfields, the lights may flash once to warn pilots that the lights are about to go off, before turning off two minutes later.

When using ARCAL, it is strongly recommended that aircraft on final approach to the airfield issue a fresh lighting command, even if the lights are already on (especially if the lights were activated by another aircraft). This is so that the lighting does not turn off at a critical moment (such as when crossing the runway threshold). When in operation, the receiver awaits a squelch break on the tuned VHF frequency and begins counting "clicks" in a 5-second period to determine pilot intent. The pilot commanded output is held by the controller for a predetermined time interval (FAA standard is 15 minutes) that is generally adjustable. It is important to understand that the 5-second click count period begins upon receipt of the first squelch break and the control sequence will respond to the click counts from 3, 5, 7 and stop. As an example, cycling the microphone button rapidly 12 times in 5 seconds will command 3, 5, 7. Similarly, slowly clicking 7 times may result in the 5-second timing period expiring prior to getting to the 7th input click.

In the United States, pilot controlled lighting is governed by FCC Rule 87.187y. This section also lists the frequencies that are allowed to control runway lights via pilot controlled lighting.

source: Wikitionary / Wikipedia and Related Sources (Edited)

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Disclaimer: While this glossary in most cases is likely to be highly accurate and useful, sometimes, for any number of editorial, transcription, technical, and other reasons, it might not be. Additionally, as somtimes you may have found yourself brought to this page through an automated term matching system, you may find definitions here that do not match the cotext or application in which you saw the original term. Please use your good judgement when using this resource.

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